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.
During a separation or relationship breakdown, this desire is understandably heightened and the overriding question is always ‘what about the children?’
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 in the best interests of the children mean?
Under the Family Law Act, the best interest of the children is their right to:
- A meaningful relationship with both parents;
- Protection from harm;
- Adequate and proper parenting that helps them to achieve their full potential; and
- Having parents fulfil their duties and meet their responsibilities for the care, welfare and development of the children.
You may wonder what a lawyer or a Court could possibly know about the best interests of my 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 your 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.
Choose the path that describes your situation for more information.
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 when it comes to separation and/or re-partnering and all need to be considered as part of any formal or informal parenting arrangement, including things like:
- The children’s primary residence;
- shared care or equal care arrangements that facilitate a meaningful relationship with both parents and their extended family and friends, free from harm;
- arrangements that change as the children grow (you can read more about that in our blog);
- the location and timing of drop-off’s and pick-up’s;
- where the children will spend special occasions like their birthday, your birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Christmas and Easter and any other occasion that is special to your family;
- preferred schooling and payment of associated fees;
- religious observance;
- health care providers and decisions;
- domestic and international travel arrangements; and
- so many more.
With a list like this you know how important it is to prepare a plan for the future of your children, and there are numerous options available to do this that may or may not need the support of a family lawyer depending on your situation.
A parenting plan can be used to formalise your agreed arrangements for the everyday as well as 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, and we have seen that work especially as under the Family Law Act the Court must take strong account of parenting plans. To be classified as a parenting plan the agreement must be in writing, signed by both parents (preferably on each page) and dated. 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 advice and this causes difficulties. For example, a new parenting plan discharges an older one; or in more extreme circumstances what was once an amicable relationship becomes less so down the track and parents are forced to consider things like Recovery Orders.
Your family lawyer can assist with parenting plans in many ways from reviewing and advising on the draft agreed to by you and other parent right through to drafting the document for you and finalising with the other parent or their family lawyer. Contact us today to find out more about how we can assist.
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. These 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 ratified 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 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. Enforcement options are not typically available in cases where the parenting plan in place was not formalised by the Court.
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 agreement, you can make an application to the Court for a parenting order. This path is sometimes the only option and can be an invasive, lengthy, emotional and possibly expensive with long-lasting consequences. It requires expert advice and possibly the intervention of other practitioners such as therapists and family report writers.
Contact our family law team for a consultation
Contact our Brisbane family lawyers for advice on your parenting matter, each one is as unique as your children and certainly not a decision or a process to be taken lightly.
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