Division 4 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“the Act”) explains parenting plans.
A parenting plan is defined as a signed written agreement between the parents of a child dealing with the care, welfare and development or parental responsibility of a child.
Pursuant to the Act parents are encouraged to agree about matters concerning their children and to use the legal system as a last resort.
Parents are encouraged by the Act to reach an informal agreement between themselves about matters concerning their children by entering into a parenting plan.
Legal practitioners are obligated by the Act to advise their clients to consider entering into a parenting plan and to advise them where they can get further assistance to prepare a parenting plan.
Parenting plans may be registered in the Family Court.
Ostensibly the intention of Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 was to encourage parents to not have dealings with the Family Court by using parenting plans to come to their own arrangements.
Many clients do not realise but any written document signed by parents in relation to a child may constitute a parenting plan.
It is seems unlikely that an e-mail exchange between parents may constitute a parenting plan. But may still constitute an agreement as to parenting.
Also parenting orders are generally regarded as having included therein a provision that they are subject to any subsequent parenting plan. Parties may inadvertently change their parenting orders by entering a parenting plan.
Therefore it is imperative that parties seek experienced family law advice when they propose to draft up a document about care arrangements because this document will likely constitute a parenting plan.
Parenting plans should be in the best interest of the child. We find that parties are often surprised when we suggest that their parenting plan should address issues that they had never thought would become a bone of contention. Parties often think their parenting plan is complete and has resolved all issues only to find that they have missed something that with hindsight is glaringly obvious.
The last thing any parent wants is to have to renegotiate a poorly drafted parenting plans. Professional, competent family law advice will help parties get it right the first time and ultimately save them future conflict, stress and money.
An important point about parenting plans is that they are not enforceable in the Family Court. The Family Court is to have regard to the terms of the most recent parenting plan when making a parenting order.
Parenting plans are not suitable in all circumstances. In some situations the parents should take the extra step and obtain parenting orders. The significant difference being that parenting orders are enforceable in the Family Court.
Whether parties should obtain a parenting plan or parenting orders varies on a case by case basis. We recommend that parents consult with an experienced family lawyer about their options before making a decision.