A well designed parenting plan is essential for effective co-parenting

Whether you have just decided to separate or have been separated for some time, parents need to put a parenting plan in place for their children.

A parenting plan is not a settlement agreement

A parenting plan determines any matter in connection with parental responsibilities and rights, such as residence, maintenance, contact, schooling, healthcare and religion. It outlines how parents will raise their children after separation or divorce. However, the scope of what may be included in a parenting plan is virtually unlimited.

A parenting plan must be in writing, drafted with the assistance of a mediator, social worker, psychologist or attorney, be signed by the parties and comply with the best interests of the child as set out in Section 7 of the Children’s Act. The “best interests” of the child means that decisions are made with the goal of fostering and encouraging the children’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood.

In my practice whenever there are children involved I always request that the child goes for a “Voice of the child” (VOC) interview. The VOC is conducted to enable children to have the opportunity to be heard in their parent’s separation or divorce proceedings. The interview provides information about what the child thinks and where they are at emotionally. The interview is carried out on children aged four to 17 years of age by either a registered psychologist or social worker and both parents must consent.

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How can a parenting plan help?

One of the biggest advantages of creating a parenting plan, is that it brings clarity during a time of uncertainty. When parents disagree about the practical and emotional aspects of parenting, the impact this can have on children can be devastating. Children hate nothing more than being stuck in the middle and asked to make decisions about when they want to see mom or dad. They want their parents to agree this between themselves and rightly so. Children are not meant to make decisions like this.

As co parents it is important to know what your schedule looks like on a weekly basis to help alleviate conflict. For example, if it’s your weekend to have the children, then you are free to organise activities without having to worry about the other parent.

When it comes to bigger decisions like health care, money and education, you can make agreements to cover these issues in as much detail that’s right for you and your family’s unique circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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What are the benefits of a parenting plan?

A well designed plan is essential for effective co-parenting. When everyday decisions are planned for and running smoothly, it enables you to focus on being a parent. Of course, there will always be something that isn’t planned for because life happens. Therefore, it is important as parents to allow a certain level of flexibility in the plan. It cannot be rigid.

Here are just a few of the many benefits to crafting your own parenting plan:

  • The child’s best interests are put first.
  • The parenting plan is unique, devised to suit the family’s circumstances.
  • Parenting plans help minimise conflict between parents by clearly setting out guidelines and expectations.
  • Parents can focus on parenting their children rather than fighting with the other parent.
  • Parents work together to develop the plan which helps them develop communication and negotiation skills.
  • Benefits children by ensuring they receive support, nurturing and love from both parents
  • Effective plans can make the transition to two separate households less stressful.

Once a plan has been agreed to, if the parents are divorcing, the plan will first have to be signed off by the office of the family advocate before their divorce becomes an order of the court. If the parents are not married, parents have the choice of lodging the signed plan with a family advocate or to have it made an order of the court.

If you would like to find out more about Parenting Plans you can call Melissa on 072 590 9517, email [email protected] or visit www.fmmediation.com

Family Matters Mediation are based in Rivonia, Johannesburg and specialise in family and divorce mediation. We employ a holistic approach to divorce mediation, working closely with a small network of psychologists, social workers and attorneys who share our philosophy.