School Holiday Dilemma - Who gets the kids?
With Easter just behind us, and the school holidays looming, it can be a difficult time for separated families who have to juggle arrangements and decide how much time the children will spend with each parent.
Unfortunately for some of those families, the tension and stress associated with making these decisions or reaching an agreement can be significant.
Is there anything that can be done to make it easier?
Many of the clients we see at Lamrocks like a degree of certainty, or 'pre-planning', when it comes to parenting arrangements - so they don't have to re-negotiate with their former partner every time there is a school holiday, birthday or special occasion. They prefer to have plans laid out in advance.
There are two options for families in this situation: Parenting Orders made by a Court, and Parenting Plans.
Parenting Orders are made by the Court and set-out the arrangements for where children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and where the children will spend holidays and celebrations such as Easter or Christmas. The Orders may also set-out other issues such as religious upbringing, schooling , medical considerations and even how and where 'changeovers' between parents should take place.
Orders are generally based on an agreement made between the parents, usually with the help of their lawyers, which is then formalised into Court Orders. They are particularly useful if parents have difficulty communicating with each other on a regular basis, or if there is a concern that one parent (or both) might not stick to a more informal agreement.
With Parenting Orders, both parents must abide by the arrangements because they are enforceable by the Court. If a parent contravenes or breaches the Orders, the Court can impose heavy penalties. Similarly if the Orders need to be changed in the future, you have to apply through the Court. Alternatively, you and your partner can agree to change the Court Orders by agreement.
Parenting Plans are usually voluntary written agreements made between the parents, with the help of their lawyers, and then signed and dated. They are more flexible than Parenting Orders because if the Plans require any changes down the track, a new agreement can be negotiated and then signed and dated.
The Plans can outline any of the same issues as a Parenting Order, such as where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and what will happen during school holidays or on birthdays and special occasions etc. However, the important difference is that Parenting Plans are not enforceable by a Court.
It is important to note that if you have existing Court Orders and then you negotiate and sign a Parenting Plan with your ex-partner, the Parenting Plan will supercede the earlier Orders.
If a parent doesn't abide by the plans, you have to resolve the problem yourselves. If an agreement can't be reached that way, your only options are to try and resolve the problem through family dispute resolution or by launching Court proceedings to get an enforceable Parenting Order.
What is best for your family?
Generally speaking every family is different and the type of arrangements you need will depend on your individual circumstances. At Lamrocks we tend to recommend Parenting Orders, even if the relationship between the separated parents is amicable. Orders are enforceable by the Court so reduce the risk of future conflict, and they can provide long-term certainty and stability for both the parents, and more importantly, the children.
For more advice on parenting arrangements or to discuss the most suitable option in your case, contact one of our experienced family lawyers on tel: 02 4731 5688.