The most important arrangements put in place after separation will be parenting arrangements. These are the arrangements for the time the children spend with their parents, family members or other significant people in their lives if they care for the child/children. Other important decisions also need to be made about where children will go to school, their religion, medical issues, their name (if one parent wants to change a child’s name after separation), or what extra- curricular activities they undertake.
Separation does not mean going to court
The breakdown of a relationship is a difficult and challenging time. Provided you and your former partner are able to reach an agreement regarding parenting arrangements you will not need to go to court and are able to formalise your agreement in a couple different ways.
There are several circumstances where you may be required to go to court upon separation, for example; if you have concerns your former partner may take your child/children overseas and not return or if there are safety concerns regarding the children.
To help parties reach an agreement about parenting arrangements, there are a few different options available that should be explored before considering going to court. This will often first start with a negotiation between the parties’ solicitors if direct discussions between the parties does not reach an agreement but can include:
- Collaborative law;
- Family dispute resolution; and
Planning for the future
Often one of the more challenging issues to address when separating is trying to reach an agreement about parenting arrangements that will have effect until a child is 18 years of age. If parties separate with young or infant children, it will often be the case that it is hard to know what will work for both of them (and the children) in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time.
Without committing to arrangements that may apply for over a decade it is often better for the children and the parents to get a short term arrangement in place as soon as possible to give stability and consistency to the arrangements going forward. A short term arrangement can be agreed in a parenting plan that is later changed as the parties understanding of their respective circumstances change over time.
Signing consent orders in lieu of a parenting plan formalises parenting arrangements until a child is 18 years of age and it is difficult to change in the future unless there has been a significant change in circumstances. A short term arrangement in a parenting plan will often be preferred at separation to allow for the parents to change these arrangements in the future.
A short term parenting arrangement should address the following:
- Where the children will live, either in the former family home or if they are moving out of the property with a parent who is also moving out of the property;
- Which parent will remain in the family home during the separation;
- When will the children spend time with each parent; and
- If the children are moving a significant distance from the family home, if there needs to be a change in school or their extra-curricular activities
Parenting arrangements that are put in place at separation will often come down to the parents’ ability to reach an agreement between themselves regarding their child/children. Notwithstanding how challenging and difficult a separation can be, it will usually be best for all involved if an agreement can be reached early on rather than a third party decision maker deciding these issues for you in court.
Before reaching an agreement with your former partner, or if you are considering separating, you should seek legal advice from a family lawyer to help inform your decisions.