The dynamics of a family can be affected significantly by how the parenting arrangements are worked out following separation.
Depending on the needs of the specific family, often separation will mean there are changes to the everyday parenting of children and, in this regard, considerations need to include things such as:
- What are the parents’ working hours and arrangements?
- What other commitments do parents have that need to be taken into account?
- What other family arrangements are needing to be considered, for example, other siblings?
- Are either of the parties or any of the children needing any assistance with their mental health?
- Are there any safety concerns such as domestic violence or drug issues?
- How close to each other do the parents live and are they close enough to be sharing a care arrangement?
Essentially, parenting matters in the family law context involve consideration of the unique circumstances of the family and then devising what really is a blue print as to the optimal arrangements to put in place to ensure the best interests of the children are met.
Orders or parenting plans will often speak of the following matters:
- Parental responsibility – for long term or short term decision making. Most often the long term decisions are made jointly by the parents and the short term (or day to day) decisions are made by the parent that has the care of the children that day.
- Information sharing – such as who gets information from doctors and schools about the children. It is more common for both parents to receive all information, but this does depend on the situation of the parties.
- Non-denigration – this effectively guides parents away from talking badly about the other parent, and often their spouse or families, in the hearing or presence of the children. This is so that the children are not exposed to the negative feelings one parent may feel for the other, which may disrupt the children’s relationship with their parents.
- Term time arrangements for the children – while many years ago this used to be often seen as one parent having the full time care, while the other parent had half of school holidays and alternate weekend time, it is now much more dependent on the needs and circumstances of the particular children and family.
Many children will have long alternate weekends (such as five nights a fortnight) with one parent and the rest of the time with the other, or alternate week time, or alternate short weekend time and days in the opposite weeks. It really comes down to what is needed for the family to best meet the needs of all involved, and may be dependent on how close the families/parents live together.
- Holiday time arrangements – most commonly parenting arrangements may include longer block periods of time over the holidays, as well as restrictions or requirements for overseas travel.
- Time on special days – Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas Day, Easter, birthdays (for the children and each of the parents) or other days of significance for the family.
The usual arrangements include full days for parents’ birthdays, and sharing of the children’s birthdays, Easter and Christmas. This again depends on the needs of the parties and children, and takes into consideration things such as whether the children have to travel, whether travel is prohibitive due to the short special day time, or whether it would be preferable to have alternate years where changeover doesn’t have to happen on the special day.
- Injunctive orders – there are often times when families may need orders to be made to safely care for the children. This may involve a parent’s mental health, drug use, domestic violence, or exposure to other people that may be inappropriate or not in the best interests of the children.
We often see orders restraining an action from taking place or requiring drug tests to be undertaken, or mental health reports to be provided from time to time. Other orders may restrain a parent from drinking alcohol, or from drinking alcohol beyond a certain limit, while they have the children in their care.
- Changeover location and arrangements – these must be safe for all parties involved, and must not expose the children to any bad behaviour. If parents are able to do so, changeovers may be at their homes or public places. If it is not safe to be done in this manner, many people utilise the services of contact centres. Contact centres can provide a safe environment where inappropriate behaviour is less able to happen, and also can be reported on by an independent person if the need arises. Usually the costs of a contact centre are shared, but it really depends on the situation as to whether that is the case or not.
Ultimately, all decisions about parenting arrangements and time are based on what is in the best interests of the children. It is a good idea to seek advice on the arrangements that you want to be put in place and the advantages and disadvantages of those arrangements to you and the children if they are put in place.
Remember, parenting arrangements don’t have to fit a ready-made plan; if something else is going to work for your family, then speak to your solicitor for advice on your family’s particular needs. Contact our team of family lawyers experienced in parenting matters for assistance or download our free parenting arrangements fact sheet.