Parents attending mediation for the first time over the arrangements for their children often don’t know what to expect from the process. We encourage parents to consider what arrangements they think will work for their children beforehand so that you can make the most of your mediation session. We have set out below some key topics you will probably discuss at mediation and the things parents can think about to ensure that they get the most out of the mediation.
- How are you going to make important decisions?
One of the first things that a parenting agreement starts with is how the major, long term decisions relating to the children should be made by the parents, the exercise of ‘parental responsibility’. This is decisions about schooling, religion and major medical decisions, not day to day issues. The parents can agree that decisions can be made solely by one parent, or both parents could have equal shared parental responsibility (where both parents have equal say in these decisions).
- Living arrangements – details, details, details…
One the best ways to avoid confusion and conflict in future is to be very clear about where the children are living and what time they are spending with each parent. This includes making sure that you discuss what days changeovers will happen but also what times and where they occur, and a contingency plan. So for example, if one parent is to collect the children from school, then what if that day is a public holiday or a pupil free day? Another is example is school holidays, if the parents agree that the children will spend half of the school holidays with each parent, then when is half? Does the school holiday start on the last day of school, or the day after? Which half will be spent with which parent? Having a detailed plan means parents know what the expectations are and there is no confusion later on about how the arrangements will work.
- What about special occasions?
Children’s arrangements can include provisions about how the children spend special occasions. You can ensure the children share special events with both parents, such as the children’s birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Eid or any other religious or social occasions which are important to your family. Parents can also agree that the children spend particular occasions with one parent (such as Mothers and Father’s Day or the parent’s birthdays). It’s completely up to the parents as to how that will best work in their circumstances.
- Are these arrangements practical and workable?
Take a step back and consider how the proposal will work in practice. How long does it take to journey to and from the changeover locations? Will you hit traffic at peak hour? Are the children moving between the parents houses with school items, sporting equipment or a musical instrument, how will that work? Does each parent need to have a set of school uniforms?
- Do the arrangements need to change as the children grow up?
What might be right for a child right now might not be right for them in future. You can plan for the arrangements to change in future. Generally speaking, as children get older they are more likely to cope with longer periods away from each parent. Parents can agree to lengthen the time the children are with each parent in future in order to reduce the frequency of changeovers and movement between households. Some parents they decide that the arrangements will change when the children reach a certain age, or when they move from primary school to high school. It’s about what will work best for your child, both now and in the future.
- Have we provided for communication about the children?
Parenting arrangements can stipulate how and when the parents will keep each other informed about their circumstances and important matters relating to the children, as well as communication with schools and medical practitioners.
- What can’t we put in a plan for the children?
It’s not appropriate to become involved in, or place restrictions on, the day to day running of the other parent’s household. It can be helpful to discuss consistency of routine for the children in both households, but ultimately, unless there’s a safety issue, each parent is able to conduct their household and make day to day decisions without interference from the other parent.
- Have you thought about interstate travel, passports and overseas travel?
The children travelling interstate is a matter which some parents feel it is important to be informed about. A parenting plan or Order can stipulate when the parents are to inform each other about interstate holiday plans.
Even if neither parent has any plans to travel overseas, it is worthwhile considering what travel arrangements would be possible in future. If parents enter into a consent Order, the arrangements will remain in place until the children turn 18 years of age and either parent might wish to travel overseas with the children in future. Parents can reach agreement about who obtains and pays for the children’s passports, where they are kept, under what circumstances each parent can take the children out of the country and to what countries they can travel. Parents may wish to limit travel to countries which are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of international Child Abduction, for example.
- Do we want the arrangements to be written up as a Parenting Plan or Court Order?
Parents can record their agreement about the children’s arrangements as a Parenting Plan or a Consent Order.
A Parenting Plan is an agreement between the parents. It cannot be enforced in court, it is not legally binding and either parent can withdraw from the agreement at any time.
A Consent Order is an Order of the Court. It sets out the agreement reached by the parents, it can be sought with the consent of both parents (thus the name) and granted by the Court.
This will be a binding and enforceable Court Order. It will be a final Order, which means the parenting arrangements cannot be litigated unless exceptional circumstances arise.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss any parenting issues further with an experienced family lawyer, book in for a free 30min consultation on our website of telephone 5576 9999.