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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What is a ' Parenting Plan ' - Child Custordy / Divorce / Separation

What is a parenting plan? When do you need a parenting plan? Should I have a parenting plan? How do I get a parenting plan made or set out? Why would I need a parenting plan?

Father and Daughter
A parenting plan is imperative during any situation where the parents / guardians of a child are not in a relationship (divorced, separated, etc) or not in agreement when it comes to raising their child.
A parenting plan is a document in which the raising of the child is documented and clearly stated. This enables structure and routine for both the parents and the child as well as boundaries and regulations limiting conflict and disagreement.

According to familyrelationships.gov.au (An Austrailian government initiative);
Parenting Plan is an agreement that separated parents make about how their children will be cared for and supported. 
Who decides on the parenting plan?

A parenting plan can be formed in the following ways:
Mother and Son
  • It could be drawn up by both parents in agreement and signed. It can then be officialized by a police officer, family advocate or legal representative as a standing legal document.
  • It can be drawn up by one parent (with or without the help of a legal representative) and the other parent can agree with all set in it. It can then be officialized by a police officer, family advocate or legal representative as a standing legal document.
  • It can be drawn up by a social worker or family advocate and will automatically be considered a legal document if all procedures are followed.

What is indicated in a Parenting plan?

It is always best to include as many points and as much detail as possible. This will limit things that could "pop up" and may not be agreed on. Think about scenario changes, have a "plan B, C, D E, F, etc".

The Canadian Department of Justice provides a 'Checklist' on what should be included in a Parenting Plan'. A summary of this list includes:
  • The Primary Residence of the child
    - The physical address
    - Who the child will be living with
  • Visitation times
    - When they will be happening
    - How long each visit will last
    - Where they will take place
    - Whether or not there will be sleepovers - If there will be sleepovers how often they will happen and how long they will last
    - Whether visits will be supervised or unsupervised
    - Who will supervise the visits if  they will be supervised
  • Baby-sitting arrangements if either parent is unavailable for work etc
  • How communication will take place when either parent is away from the child
    - Will it be through phone calls, texts, Skype etc
    - How often this can occur
    - Whether or not this is limited or moderated
    - What the best times for these are
  • How vacations will be spent
    - Will you alternate school holidays
    - What will happen on birthdays, Christmas
  • Child Maintenance- How will financial matters regarding the child be split?
    - Who will be responsible for which aspects?
    - Will everything be split in half?
    - Will the one parent transfer money to the other?
    - When will money need to be transferred by?
    - Will the child be on medical aid?
    - Who's medical aid will the child be on?
    - What will happen in case of emergency?
    - Will you both be responsible to inform the other parent as soon as something happens?
  • Decision making
    Father and Son

    - Which school will your child attend?
    - Which decisions will need to make jointly?
    - Can any decisions be made by one of the parents only?
  • Religion
    - If you are of different religious beliefs, how will the child be raised?
    - Which church or religious worship practices will the child attend if any?
  • Extended family and grandparents
    Will there be visitation with extended family or grandparents?
    -When will this be?
    - Will this be structured or regulated?
    - Will this be on an occasional or regular basis?
    - Where will this take place?
  • Other Parenting Issues
    - Will the child be introduced to new partners (boyfriends / girlfriends) etc?
    - How long will each wait before such introductions are carried out?
    - What disciplining measures will be used for the child?
    - Which rules or regulations will be in place for him / her?
    - For older children: Will he / she have sleepovers with friends etc?
                                      Will he or she have a curfew?
    - For younger children: At what age will unsupervised play dates / visits take place?
There are numerous other things to think about and consider but as previously mentioned; the more you can address and cover in your parenting plan the better.

What if the parents don't agree on what they would like in the parenting plan?

If a parenting plan is not agreed on, a mediator in the form of a social worker or other unbiased individual with the best interests of the child in mind can be called in to assist in drawing up a parenting plan. The parenting plan will then be officiated and legalized through a family advocate.

If a parent doesn't agree with a parenting plan whether in the formation stages or one which is already set and officialized, he or she can approach the court and appeal to have the parenting plan amended or changed. The necessary court procedures will need to be followed and investigations into reasons for the changes and whether or not they are valid will be carried out by the family advocate. Depending on the child or children's ages, they may also be interviewed or assessed to find out whether or not the changes would be in their best interests.

What could the other parent disagree with regarding the parenting plan?

The other parent may be unsatisfied with or require changes to the following:
  • The primary residence of the child (He / she may want the child to live with him or her).
  • The visitation agreement (He or she may require more days, hours or weekends)
  • The supervision (He or she may want unsupervised verses supervised visits)
  • The location of the visits (He or she may require that they be allowed to take the child off of the property indicated for visits).
  • He or she may want sleepovers or weekends / numerous days away with the child.
  • He or she may be unsatisfied with the maintenance amount indicated in the parenting plan.
There are many things that the parents may not agree on. This amplifies the importance of a parenting plan as without it, these could cause conflict, arguments and confusion for the child.

What is the advantage of having a parenting plan? Why should I have one?

Besides the obvious and mentioned point of having structure and routine for the child, it is also beneficial in avoiding or limiting disagreements. In conjunction to this; without a parenting plan you have no grounds to stand on as a parent. When parents separate, divorce or break up (and even if they were never a a couple to begin with), both parents have equal rights to the child. Neither one can impose any rules or restrictions over the other without agreement. A parenting plan regulates this and sets the grounds for future interaction between both parents and the parents and the child.
If you do not have a parenting plan there is no limits:
For example a father can take a 2 month old breastfed baby away from his / her mother for extended hours without any prohibition even if it isnt in his or her best interest because there is no parenting plan / court order stating that he cannot.

It is important to note:
A parent cannot legally withhold the child from the other parent for any reason whatsoever WITHOUT the courts consent. If you do so, you could lose custody of the child and the other parent may be awarded it. If you feel that your child should not be in the company of the other parent because he / she is not safe, you need to get a court order stating this as soon as possible. The court will carry out the necessary investigations and if your concerns are valid and the court agrees a court order will be awarded and the parents visitation rights limited or taken away (in extreme cases).
Pending a court case for such a court order, you can go to the police station and get an affidavit or a protection order of some sort. This will not be able to keep the other parent away from the child permanently but it will be better than having nothing at all.

For more on reasons when custody can be limited or taken away please read here.

Please note that I AM NOT a lawyer or legal representative. All information I have gained through research from legal sites and representatives as well as experience gained having gone through a divorce while having a young child. For more in-depth information specific to your case please contact a legal representative close to you. 

If you have any questions you would like information or assistance on based on experience the feel free to comment or email me :) 

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