Separation is hugely challenging not only for the parents but also for the children. Parents are often unsure or unable to communicate with each other about what time the children will spend with each parent. It is especially difficult when the separation is not amicable. For this reason, preparing interim parenting arrangements to guide you before creating a formal agreement is really important.
Interim parenting arrangements refer to temporary custody and visitation plans established after separation, before a more permanent custody agreement is reached. While it may be tempting for separating parents to postpone addressing these arrangements amidst the emotional upheaval, doing so can harm the children involved, who need order, calm and continuity to thrive.
Many couples find that the interim arrangements are an excellent way to test what works and what doesn’t, which makes preparing the final orders easier. The choices made during the interim period can shape children’s future well-being and influence co-parenting dynamics.
Learn how to prepare interim parenting arrangements to forge a peaceful path forward for everyone in the family.
PREPARE A PARENTING PLAN
Normally the first step to work out interim parenting arrangements for children is through a parenting plan. This is a written agreement between the parents with or without legal advice. The parenting plan must be signed by both parents and should be dated.
The issue is if the parents have not received legal advice and did not understand what they were signing, or if one parent was coerced into to agreeing and signing due to family violence or a power imbalance between the parents.
A parenting plan is not legally binding and cannot be enforced by the Family or Federal Courts if one parent does not comply with the parenting plan. If either parent decided to make an Application to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court then the parenting plan would be persuasive for the Court to make a decision based on the previous arrangements for the children.
USE A FAMILY DISPUTE RESOLUTION
One way to reach an agreement through a parenting plan is through family dispute resolution (FDR), otherwise known as mediation. This process allows the parents to reach an agreement and have their voices heard in a safe environment. If there are safety concerns then the family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP) can arrange for the parents to be in separate rooms and the FDRP can go into between the rooms with the parents’ proposals. If an agreement is reached then a parenting plan can be entered into and preferably taken to their lawyers to obtain legal advice prior to signing.
There are plenty of government funded family dispute resolution services, such as Relationships Australia.
ARRANGEMENTS TO NEGOTIATE FOR YOUR CHILDREN
The FDRP can assist with the parents to negotiate interim parenting arrangements for the children, including spending scheduled times with each parent (week and weekend time), special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays and school holidays.
Another consideration is where changeover will occur. It is important to have time commencing and concluding to provide the children with stability and a regular routine.
Further, the issue of equal shared parental responsibility (ESPR) (making long term decisions for the children such as education, health and religion) or sole parental responsibility. Either EPSR or sole parental responsibility is not about spending time with the children, only about making long term decisions for the children.
WHAT IF AN INTERIM PARENTING ARRANGEMENT CAN’T BE REACHED?
If no interim parenting arrangement can be reached at FDR then the mediator can issue a Section 60I Certificate which looks very insignificant but is important if one parent decides to make an Application to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court to seek parenting Orders.
Applications will be not be accepted by the Court without a Section 60I Certificate unless in circumstances of family violence, a child is at risk or urgency (such as a recovery Order when one parent unilaterally withholds a child). The Orders sought from the Court can include interim and final Orders. The interim Orders are those arrangements before final Orders are made by the Court or by Consent by the parents.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN AGREEMENT IS REACHED?
If parents reach an agreement by way of a parenting plan, this can be drafted into Consent Orders which are filed in the Family Court. Both parents must sign the Consent Orders and are not required to obtain independent legal advice, although it’s a good idea to do so.
The Consent Orders are Court Orders and must be complied with by both parents. There are consequences if one parent does not comply with the Orders.
PUTTING YOUR CHILDREN FIRST
If your children are young and the separation is difficult, it can be hard to consider how to be civil to the other parent for what they may have done to you during the marriage or relationship or how one parent has suddenly stepped up after separation and now going for parent of year award. Putting these differences aside and working on your own emotions can help your children for the future by having parents that can communicate effectively and are civil at changeovers.
Parenting after separation can be difficult. It is important to consider what is in the children’s best interests and ensure they have a meaningful relationship with both parents (unless there are issues of risk).
Final words: Preparing interim parenting arrangements after separation
It can be hard to put your differences aside but through individual counselling (or couple counselling if appropriate) and not viewing your children as possessions, you can work together as co-parents of your children until they are 18 years old and beyond.
Remember, your children do not want to be in a position of not inviting one or both parents to their significant life events due your inability to get along whilst they were growing up.