One of the most common calls we get is from recently separated parents who want to see their kids. They want to know what their legal rights are and what needs to happen to allow them to see their children.
For many couples, reaching agreement on parenting arrangements can be particularly difficult. In some cases we even see time with the kids being withheld as a bargaining chip or way to punish the other parent. It goes without saying that this is in nobody’s interest – especially the kids.
The Family Law Act deems that children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents. Research also shows that children cope and transition better when parenting arrangements are approached amicably and cooperatively, especially in the early stages of separation. When children are exposed to conflict, or aren’t allowed to see a parent for an extended period, it can often lead to emotional stress and behavioural issues – which no parent wants for their child or children.
If you have recently separated and are struggling to reach agreement on parenting arrangements getting help for an experienced family lawyer and mediator is the best thing you can do – for yourself and your kids.
Getting a Parenting Agreement in place is better for everyone – especially the kids
A Parenting Agreement sets out when and how much time the kids should spend with each parent, and addresses practicalities like how or where changeovers should happen and how the kids should be supported through the process.
It’s important to note, parenting arrangements and agreements are about what is in the best interests of the children, rather than what is in the best interests of the parents. That said, it is important that the take into account practicalities like the parents work commitments and travel considerations, along with the kids schooling and extracurricular activities. And, of course the kids ages and developmental needs.
Once in place, a Parenting Agreement provides certainty and clarity for both the parents and the children. Everyone understands what is expected, what’s going to happen and how it will happen – which reduces the stress and emotional trauma surrounding the separation.
The different factors that need to be considered when developing a parenting arrangement
There are many different things that need to be considered when working through parenting arrangements, including:
- What arrangements will be in the best interests of the children;
- The developmental needs of the children;
- Whether there are family violence considerations that may require a third party to facilitate changeovers;
- The previous care arrangements and how can they best be replicated to minimise disruption on the children;
- The children’s attachments and involvement with extended family members who they should continue to maintain a relationship with;
- The parent’s work commitments – such as rosters, overtime and location of employment;
- Where the parties will be living after separation and their ability to take the children to their activities and schooling.
What’s reasonable when it comes to a Parenting Agreement?
According to The Family Law Act children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents. In most cases, this means that each parent gets to spend a significant and meaningful amount of time with the children. For:
- older children this is typically blocks of time, such as weekly or weekend visits.
- younger children this is often consists of more regular, but shorter visits.
Equal time, such as one week on, one week off, is also an option and can work quite well for some families.
Where there are concerns about the safety of the children, or attachment issues, supervised visits may be a requirement of the Parenting Agreement. However, this is generally a short-term thing that should be regularly reviewed.
It’s also important to note that neither parent has the right to move the kids to a location that will make it more difficult for the other parent to spend time with them (eg interstate or overseas) – without the other parent’s consent.
Putting a parenting arrangement in place
If you and your ex are able to reach agreement and settle on an arrangement that meets both your needs and the kid’s needs – that’s the ideal situation. However, it is important to document the arrangement in the form of a Parenting Agreement, so that there is no room for confusion and you both have the certainty you need to move forward. It’s also well worth getting independent advice from an experienced family lawyer – before you sign anything!
If you and your ex can’t agree, or one parent isn’t letting the other see the kids – you need to speak to an experienced family lawyer asap. They will be able to help you understand what your options are. In some cases, mediation may be an ideal solution for finding agreement. But where this is not possible, there are violence or safety concerns, they will be able to guide you through the legal process of putting the appropriate measures in place.
If you’ve recently separated or are thinking about separating, feel free to get in touch – we’re here to help you understand your different options, how the law applies to your situation and offer valuable advice.