Why it is important to put pen to paper for parenting arrangements after parties have separated
It has been a few months since the relationship ended with your partner but things are good.
Most importantly arrangements for care of and time with, the children, have settled into a routine which works well for everyone. You are both being reasonable and flexible if there are any changes to the schedule, children are transitioning well between the households and communication is positive.
The last thing you want to do is rock the boat by suggesting that there should be a document setting out the parenting arrangements.
Family lawyers, most of the time will suggest it is best for there to be a document formalising what the current parenting arrangements are. Parties are sometimes resistant to this idea, but read on for some explanations and reasons why you may want to consider doing this.
1. Things are going well – I don’t want to upset the applecart
Things are going well until they are not. We see this in parenting arrangements all the time.
Generally, when things are going well there is no better time to suggest documenting a current arrangement, as communication between parties is positive, and there is trust.
2. We want arrangements to be flexible – documenting the arrangement doesn’t allow for that
Parenting arrangements can be written in such a way to accommodate changes and flexibility as it is needed.
One way to do this is, at the start of the document to have the words “unless the parties agree otherwise”. This gives the parties an opportunity to come to an agreed arrangement other than what is set in the document.
3. What happens if we have a written agreement and then something changes
You can change the agreement – if both of you agree to it.
Situations and family circumstances change over time. Parties remarry, have more children and relocate – all these changes be discussed and a new agreement reached which can then be drawn up in a new document.
4. What if I think the document needs to be changed by the other party doesn’t agree?
In those circumstances, the parties will usually, first, need to attend mediation (also known as family dispute resolution) to see if they can reach agreement. If agreement can’t be reached, then the party wanting to change the agreement can go to court asking for the agreement to be changed.
5. Why is it so important to have a written document as opposed to a verbal agreement?
When any agreement is written down the terms of that agreement become clear to both parties. If the agreement is in writing:-
- It avoids confusion, misunderstanding and miscommunication about what the arrangements are – you can both refer to the same document.
- It may be enforceable. An informal or verbal agreement is also not enforceable the same way as court documents are.
- Neither party can’t unilaterally change their mind.
Most importantly, if there is certainty and stability around the arrangements the children will benefit from that.
Joelene Nel is the Director of, and a mediator at, The Mediation Place. She is a Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner; she also practises as a Senior Associate Family Lawyer at McLaughlins Lawyers. Joelene’s most challenging and rewarding work is that of being a mother to two children.
If you have parenting matters that you need some assistance in resolving, contact The Mediation Place – we focus families on positive resolutions.