How to Minimise the Messiness of a Co-parenting Agreement
By Elias Tabchouri, Principal lawyer at Macquarie Lawyers
If you’ve recently split with your partner or spouse and you want to raise your children collectively and cooperatively, having a co-parenting agreement can help improve your focus on how to do this, and potentially make you better parents.
What is co-parenting?
Long story short, co-parenting is a term coined for two separated parents who want to raise their children together. In a divorce or separation, these arrangements have to be treated carefully in order to raise happy, well-balanced kids. Since the parents are no longer a ‘team’, the focus becomes heavily on the children, which can be both challenging and elusive to parents. It’s important for both parents to align on an agreement with shared goals and outcomes with their children’s best interests at heart.
What is a co-parenting agreement and who needs one?
A co-parenting plan or agreement is a written document that outlines how parents will raise their children after a separation or divorce.
Principally written with the best interests of the children in mind, a good co-parenting plan details how much time children will spend with each parent, details of scheduling, how both minor and major decisions will be made between the two parents, how the split of responsibilities for education and extracurricular activities will be made and more.
All parents who have gone through a separation or divorce are strongly recommended to draw up an agreement of this nature. Having a well thought out and carefully considered co-parenting agreement will not only ensure the least disruption to the child’s upbringing but will also instill clear direction and guidelines around the child’s routine. It also sets a good example for the child when it comes to communication, and encourages an amicable relationship between the parents.
Co-parenting plans provide flexibility in that they can be re-written and re-evaluated to adapt to the family situation as time progresses and the children grow older. They also have the power to amend any previous parenting orders made by a court.
What does a co-parenting agreement need to include?
Since an agreement of this type is a serious matter, it’s important for all parties involved who will have care of the child (parents, godparents, next of kin, grandparents and any other relative caretakers) to sit down together to discuss the options. An agreement will typically outline an who the child will live with, who will have parental responsibility, how finances relating to the children will be dealt with and how any future disputes or disagreements will be dealt with.
Points to consider when drafting the agreement include:
- Extracurricular activities
- Diet and nutrition
- Internet and TV usage
- Parental roles and responsibilities
- Family values and morals
- Longer term parental expectations
- Emergency or spontaneous decision-making guidelines
- Child custody
- Child support
- Residential schedule
- Visitation plans
- Custody during holidays
- Financial responsibilities
- Emergency procedures
- Grandparents’ visitation plan
- Child-related communication procedures
- Last testament and will
What about unmarried parents who have split up?
Even for couples who weren’t officially married before splitting up, it’s important to have a written document to remind both parties to keep their common interests of their child separate from their separation. When breakups get messy, it’s easy for parents to forget their shared goal of making sure their children grow up in a balanced household. To have a written document to refer back to continuously will help keep the emotions out of the process.
In addition to the traditional requirements of an agreement, unmarried parents should consider also including:
- A clear and concisely written description of parental roles and guidelines
- Children’s legal last name
- Whether they have settled on legal or joint custody
- Long-term legal procedures during emergencies
The bottom line is – when going through a separation, the best interests of the child are always paramount. As difficult as it can be, separated parents really need to focus on the least disruptive path for raising children, and set aside all other emotional concerns and pride when discussing co-parenting. For children to grow and develop as well-balanced humans this needs to be the core focus of your co-parenting agreement.
For more information on co-parenting agreements and other family law related matters, contact Principal Lawyer Elias Tabchouri at Macquarie Lawyers: [email protected]/ 0418 451 450