In today’s evolving Australian family landscape, understanding the intricacies of parenting agreements becomes paramount.
These agreements, essential tools in navigating the complex waters of co-parenting after separation or divorce, lay down clear guidelines for both parents, ensuring clarity, predictability, and stability for children involved.
As family structures diversify and societal expectations shift, the need for comprehensive, well-understood agreements has never been greater. They not only help mitigate potential disputes but also ensure that the child’s well-being and emotional stability remain at the forefront.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at parenting agreements in Australia, including the types of parenting agreements that can be made and the benefits of having parental agreements in place.
What is a parenting agreement?
A parenting agreement, at its core, is a structured understanding or contract between parents outlining how they will co-parent their child or children after a separation or divorce.
A parenting agreement essentially captures the consensus between parents about critical aspects of their child’s upbringing and helps to ensure that parental responsibility is shared and understood
It can be an informal, written agreement, known as a parenting plan, or a more formal, legally enforceable arrangement such as consent orders or court orders. While its format can vary, its purpose remains consistent: to provide a clear roadmap for co-parenting.
There are many reasons for cementing parenting arrangements. Some of these include:
- Clarity and Predictability: A well-written and structured agreement offers a predictable routine for children, ensuring they experience stability and consistency post-separation.
- Conflict Minimisation: By preempting potential disputes with clear guidelines, it minimises the scope for disagreements that can emotionally tax both the child and the parents.
- Legal Protection: Should disagreements escalate or one party not uphold their end of the agreement, a formal parenting agreement provides a legal framework for resolution.
It’s also important to note that parenting agreements can be between same sex or opposite parents of a child, as well as between parents who were previously married or in a de facto relationship. They can also be made between people who were never in a relationship however they have had a child together.
A child’s best interests and parenting agreements
Central to any parenting agreement is the principle of the child’s best interests. These principles have been carefully developed to ensure a child has their needs taken care of. Some of the key considerations of the best interests of the child principle are:
- the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and
- the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm resulting from being subjected, or exposed, to abuse, neglect or family violence.
Decisions regarding or impacting children should always be made with these key considerations at the forefront.
Parental responsibilities and parenting agreements
Parental responsibilities, in the context of parenting agreements, encompass the diverse roles and duties parents hold concerning their child’s upbringing.
At its core, it’s about decision-making. Parents are tasked with making crucial choices that shape their child’s life, from educational pathways and healthcare decisions to engagement in cultural or religious practices.
Physical custody, determining where the child resides, is another significant aspect. This could mean the child living predominantly with one parent or spending equal durations with both. Alongside physical well-being, ensuring emotional and psychological support is equally vital. Parents must create a nurturing environment, offer guidance, and set boundaries.
Financial support also falls under this umbrella, ensuring the child’s essential needs are met. This covers basics like food and clothing but might also extend to extracurricular activities or specific medical needs. Communication between parents, ensuring the child’s safety, and collaboratively addressing any challenges, are also integral to these responsibilities.
In essence, these duties, whether shared or allocated, form the foundation of any parenting agreement, ensuring the child’s best interests are always prioritised.
Types of parenting agreements
There are three main types of parenting agreements, and these include:
A parenting plan is an informal, often written arrangement where parents decide on the specifics of how they will care for their children. A parenting plan is not legally enforceable but provides a guiding framework for co-parenting.
Pros of parenting plans:
- Offers flexibility and can be easily modified.
- Encourages cooperative parenting without legal intervention.
Cons of parenting plans:
- Lacks legal enforcement, meaning there’s no legal recourse if one parent doesn’t adhere.
- Might be ambiguous without legal oversight.
Best suited for: A parenting plan is likely to be more suitable for parents who maintain an amicable relationship post-separation and trust each other to uphold the agreement without requiring legal enforcement.
A consent order is an agreement made out of Court but approved by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. It becomes a legally binding commitment that both parents must adhere to.
Pros of consent orders:
- Legally enforceable, offering protection to both parties.
- Provides a sense of formality and structure without a lengthy court battle.
- Parties can formalise an agreement they have created.
Cons of consent orders:
- Less flexible than parenting plans; modifications generally require legal processes.
- Might necessitate legal fees for drafting and approval.
Best Suited For: Parents who want a legally binding agreement to ensure clarity and adherence but wish to avoid a prolonged court dispute.
Parenting Court Orders
Court orders are essentially directions from the court regarding parenting arrangements. This is a more formal route and is typically pursued when parents cannot come to a mutual agreement.
Pros of parenting court orders:
- Provides a clear, structured, and legally enforceable directive.
- Can offer a solution when parents are unable to agree.
Cons of parenting court orders:
- Might strain the co-parenting relationship due to the adversarial nature of court proceedings.
- Can be time-consuming and costly.
Best Suited For: Situations where mutual agreement is challenging, or there are significant disputes or concerns about the child’s welfare that necessitate court intervention.
Which parenting agreement is best?
The answer to this million dollar question is that it depends entirely on the unique circumstances of your situation. For some people a simple parenting plan works while for others the certainty of a formalised agreement like a consent order provides more comfort, and in some cases, coming to an agreement together is just not possible.
What matters is that the parents are both putting their child’s best interests first.
Do I need a lawyer to make parenting arrangements?
Technically, a lawyer is not required when creating a parenting plan, applying for consent orders or court parenting orders, however, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice.
Despite the best intentions, misunderstandings can arise. Some parents might not know the difference between an oral agreement and a legally enforceable agreement. Or, they might be unaware of the serious consequences of breaching a consent order.
By seeking legal advice, you have a better chance of mitigating issues arising.
Discuss parenting arrangements with our family lawyers
If you’re currently working on parenting arrangements or you’re involved in a family law matter now, get in touch with our family law team.
At Clarity Lawyers, we aim to provide our clients with not only high quality and accurate legal advice but also the compassion and support you need when you’re involved in a family law matter.