Can you create your own parenting plan?
Yes, you can!
A parenting plan is effectively a legally recognised agreement between parents about how they care for their children following a separation. These agreements usually include where the children will live and how they are to spend time with each parent.
The Family Law Act requires that parenting plans be in writing, be signed by both parents, and be dated. Those are the only legal requirements to creating a parenting plan. While that seems very simple for those of us who work in family law, for your average person, it is a bit broad and probably raises a lot of questions.
Here is my guide to preparing a DIY parenting plan.
1. Have a heading
I feel like this should be obvious, but if you are intending to write up a parenting plan, make sure you have a clear heading that says "Parenting Plan" so that it is clear that the intention of the parents was to create a parenting plan.
Although it is not technically a requirement under the Family Law Act, it can certainly save any uncertainty or disagreement about whether or not this agreement was meant to be taken as a parenting plan or not.
2. Name the parents and the children
Again, this is not something that is spelled out as a legal requirement, but it is a good idea below the heading to set out each parent's full name as well as all of the children's full names and dates of birth.
From that point forward, you can refer to everybody by their first name and it is clear who you are referring to. Avoid using short forms or nicknames, however.
3. Use numbered paragraphs
It is a good idea to organise the agreement in numbered paragraphs. This will help make it easier to read, easier to refer to, and easier to follow if there are multiple pages. It is also easier to make changes when each issue is its own separate paragraph.
If you want to be fancy, you can also use sub-paragraphs. This can be handy when setting out more complicated contact arrangements.
4. Use language you are comfortable with
The primary purpose of a parenting plan is to record an agreement between parents about their children. For the most part, the only people who will be reading this parenting plan are the parents themselves. If you are trying to write up your own parenting plan, you do not need to use any special language or any specific legal terms.
Just write in a simple, straightforward way that everybody can understand.
5. Have a timeframe for review
A Parenting Plan is not meant to last forever. It is very normal, and even expected, for parents to review these agreements regularly. Children grow, their needs change, the parents' lives change, so many issues can affect the parenting arrangements.
Having a timeframe in which you will review the Parenting Plan is helpful because it allows you to touch base to see if the arrangements are still working for both you and the children.
This does not mean the Parenting Plan must be changed in that time. It may be as simple as saying that the arrangements will be reviewed every 6 or 12 months or whatever timeframe makes sense to you.
6. Create a new plan when things change
If you decide that it is time to change the parenting plan, it is best to create a new plan. This does not mean you must start from scratch. You can take your existing parenting plan, keep all the parts that are still working, and change only the ones that need changing. When you are satisfied, you sign and date the new agreement which becomes your new parenting plan.
Once you have your new parenting plan, it is a good idea to destroy any copies of your old plan. Although legally only the most recent parenting plan would be considered, it helps to avoid any confusion if there are no old copies floating around.
7. Sign and date
As mentioned, signing and dating your parenting plan is crucial as it is a legal requirement. It is a good idea to sign and date each page as well if your parenting plan has more than one page.
If you are signing hard copies, it is best to create two signed originals. This means you both sign two separate copies and that way you each keep one original. You can also make a copy of your parenting plan to keep somewhere safe in case you lose the original.
Parenting plans can also be signed electronically. This can be done if you have an electronic signature in your PDF software or by using a specific online document signing service. I use SignRequest for example, which is very easy to use and free if you have a low volume of documents.
And that is all!
Of course, if you need helping to negotiate and prepare a parenting plan, you can contact us. Mediation is a great way for parents to discuss the parenting arrangements they would like to have in place and I prepare a parenting plan as part of the mediation process where parents have reached an agreement.
Finally, remember that a parenting plan is different from parenting orders, which are Court Orders and strictly enforceable. Parenting plans are more informal; however, if there is a dispute, the Family Court must take into consideration the terms of the most recent parenting plan if the parents have one. Therefore, it is always a good idea to try to have a parenting plan if possible.