Parenting Arrangements and Disputes
As a parent, all you ever want is to provide the best for your children. You want them to have the best opportunities, be their best self, and to be cared for and protected.Back to our practice Areas
During a separation or relationship breakdown, this desire is understandably heightened.
The law in these types of matters is based on the “best interests of the children”, particularly their right to a meaningful relationship with each parent as long as it does not put them at risk of harm.
So, what does “the best interests of the children” mean?
Under family law legislation, the best interests of the children refers to their rights.
- A meaningful relationship with both parents
- Protection from harm
- Adequate and proper parenting that helps them to achieve their full potential
- Having parents fulfil their duties and meet their responsibilities for their care, welfare, and development
You may wonder what a lawyer or a court could possibly know about the best interests of your children. You are absolutely right, you know your children better than anyone else in the world, except for maybe their other parent.
The fact of the matter is that during a separation, emotions such as fear, anger, confusion, and even guilt can cloud your judgement and make it overwhelmingly difficult to make clear and rational decisions around the future wellbeing of your children.
What an expert family lawyer can offer is a way through the forest of separation, to a place where you and the other parent can honour the history of your relationship through your children, ensuring that their childhood isn’t adversely impacted by a conflict that no one ever hoped to have.
What do I need to consider for our parenting arrangements?
As you know, there is a never ending list of things you think and worry about when it comes to raising your children. These become even more important following separation and/or re-partnering. This long list of considerations should all form part of any formal or informal parenting arrangement.
What will be the children’s primary residence?
How can we create shared care or equal care arrangements that facilitate a meaningful relationship with both parents and their extended family and friends?
How can we ensure that all care arrangements are free from harm?
How will these arrangements change as the children grow?
Where and when will drop-off’s and pick-up’s happen?
Where will the children spend special occasions like their birthday, your birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and/or any other occasion that is special to you or the other parent?
Where would you like the children to go to school, and where does the other parent want your children to go to school? Who will pay any associated fees?
Are there religious and cultural considerations that need to be considered?
Who are the children’s health care providers? How will decisions be made between both parents?
How will domestic and international travel arrangements work?
Yep, we get it. It’s a long list. It needs to be though to ensure you and the other parent are adequately planning for the future of your children in this new, post-separation world.
If you’re not sure where to begin, or if you and the other parent are in disagreement about one or all of the above considerations, it’s important that you speak with a specialist family lawyer. Engaging a family lawyer to help you plan a pathway forward will help to ensure your children are not exposed to conflict between their parents.
Options for Formalising Parenting Arrangements
Whatever your situation, there are a number of ways that you can finalise your parenting arrangements to ensure stability and consistency for the benefit of your children.
A parenting plan can be used to formalise your agreed arrangements for the everyday, as well as for special arrangements.
Parenting plans are a great inexpensive option, especially in the short-term, in amicable situations where you and the other parent agree to the arrangements.
Parenting plans can be drawn up by both parents and agreed to informally. To be classified as a parenting plan, the agreement must be:
- in writing
- signed by both parents (preferably on each page); and
It is also a good idea to make sure that both parents have a copy of the signed document so that you can refer back to it as needed.
There are two sides to everything though, and we have also seen situations where parents didn’t seek adequate legal advice prior to entering into a parenting plan, which ultimately causes difficulties down the line.
Your specialist family lawyer can assist with parenting plans in many ways, from reviewing and advising on the draft agreed to by you and the other parent, right through to drafting the document for you and finalising it with the other parent or their family lawyer. Your options for working with one of our family lawyers is entirely up to you, and can be discussed in line with your budget. Contact us today to find out more about how we can assist with your parenting plan.
While a parenting plan will be taken seriously by the court and any current or future family lawyers, there is a more formal option in the form of Consent Orders.
Consent Orders typically work in much the same way in that the arrangements are largely agreed, or negotiated, by the parents (and their family lawyer as needed) in the first instance.
Consent orders can then be made by the court to become a legally binding, enforceable document. This has the benefit of being able to enforce terms in the event there is a serious breach down the track that cannot be resolved amicably for whatever reason.
Consent Orders are the preferred option for most family lawyers as they provide a legal foundation to the arrangement and the safety of being able to take further action down the track if needed; a plan for a rainy day, if you will. Enforcement options are not typically available in cases where the parenting plan in place was not formalised by the Court.
As with any legal document, it’s important that you seek specialist legal advice about your unique circumstances. It’s no good relying on what your friend of a friend of a friend said about their situation – families are incredibly unique, as is the advice that applies to each one.
To speak with a specialist family lawyer about whether consent orders are the right option for you, contact our team today.
Options when You Cannot Agree
In circumstances where there is a very real threat of harm to your children, or just no way for you and the other parent to reach an agreement, you can make an application to the court for a parenting order. This path is sometimes the only option, but it’s important for you to know from the outset that this pathway can be an invasive, lengthy, emotional, and expensive process with long-lasting consequences. It requires expert advice and possibly the intervention of other practitioners such as therapists and family report writers.
A good family lawyer will always exhaust all other options before making an application to the court, to reduce the risk of emotional and financial harm wherever possible. If you and the other parent are in disagreement about your parenting arrangements, you can engage a family lawyer to negotiate with the other parent (or their family lawyer) on your behalf. From our experience, it can be invaluable to have a removed third-party negotiate on your behalf, and to know that you have someone in your corner who will support you as well as ensure your focus remains on what will be in the best interests of your child.
Life and circumstances change. Following separation and divorce, you or your former partner might be seeking a fresh start somewhere new, or finally going after that dream job that requires you to move cities, states, or sometimes even countries.
The impact of this on your children and their relationship with both parents is a big one. Your family has been through a lot of upheaval already, and adding relocation to the mix has the potential to inflame already heightened emotions.
There is very little restriction, per se, on the rights of an adult to choose where they live. It is an entirely different story when that decision impacts a child and their ability to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. A relocation dispute emerges where there is disagreement about relocating a child between separated or divorced parents.
The good news is though, that regardless of whether you are the parent choosing to move away or the parent “left behind”, the suggestion of relocation doesn’t need to automatically result in conflict and a one way ticket to court. We advocate considering all of the options through open and frank discussions or mediation before contemplating going to court.
If you or the other parent is considering relocation, there are a few things you should consider.
- What is the likely impact of this on your child?
- Is this move in the best interests of your child, and are they of an age where this needs to be weighted?
- What are your child’s current relationships with both parents?
- Is it feasible for your child to live with the parent that is not relocating?
- What are the reasons prompting the move? Does it make more sense to remain where you are currently?
- Will remaining where you are be emotionally and financially negative to the other parent?
- Is it possible for
- What is the expected timeframe and length of the move?
- What are the practicalities of travel between locations to facilitate meaningful time with both parents?
- Is affordable and appropriate housing and employment available in the proposed location?
- Where is there emotional and family support available for both parents? For example, do you or the other parent have family and friends who the children are comfortable spending time with if you’re unable to take care of them?
- If a new school needs to be considered, are both parents happy with the options? Are they suitable, affordable, and do they have availability?
- What else needs to be considered for your specific situation?
This list alone is understandably a difficult and overwhelming exercise. Throw into the mix the heightened emotions that often come from separation, and possibly anger from the other parent if they disagree with the relocation, and the topic can very quickly spiral into a powder keg of conflict.
Whether it’s you or the other parent considering relocation, you should seek specialist family law advice from the outset to ensure your bests interests and those of your children remain at the forefront.
How does the family court decide on relocation after separation?
If you are unable to reach an agreement on a proposed relocation, it is likely that the matter will require intervention at court. The primary consideration of the court will ultimately be what is in the best interests of the child (more on that above).
Despite the specific proposals of the parties, the court is at liberty to consider any arrangement for the child assuming that, based on the evidence available, the outcome is in the best interest of a child and is reasonably practical.
Due to the emotionally charged complexity of relocation matters, they can be problematic and the outcome can be devastating for everyone if things don’t work out. Save yourself the emotional turmoil and uncertainty and seek expert relocation advice early on. Contact our team of relocation lawyers today to find out where you stand and what your options are.