When a couple who has children decides to end their relationship, one of the most important things they need to do is to devise a parenting arrangement.
A parenting arrangement, sometimes also referred to as a custody arrangement, often includes information regarding how the parents will care for the children, including where the children will live and how they will divide their time between parents.
As you may be able to imagine, working out a parenting arrangement and these living arrangements can be emotionally stressful and confusing. Much of this confusion comes from that fact that the way a custody or living arrangement may look for one family could be very different to another – there is no set formula.
In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the most common parenting and custody arrangements, as well as some factors that should be taken into consideration when making these important decisions.
If you’re in the early stages of a separation and there are children involved, keep reading to learn more.
Parenting after separation
As we touched on above, when a couple with children decides to separate, they may create an agreement that outlines how their child/ren will be cared for. The agreement can include a wide variety of details, such as:
- Who the child will live with;
- How and when the child will spend time with each parent;
- How the parents will share parental responsibility;
- How the parents will consult with each other to make decisions concerning their child/ren; and
- How communication will occur.
A parenting agreement can go into full detail comprising everything you can think of, or it can be simple, quick, and succinct. The relationship of the separated parents can impact how detailed or not detailed the agreement would be. If the relationship between the parents is contentious, then a detailed plan may be best, while parents who are amicable may be able to manage a more flexible arrangement.
The parents of the children are free to come up with their own agreement, which is actually encouraged under Australian family law. However, if they are unable to come to an agreement, they may need to go to court where decisions will be made by a judicial officer.
As difficult as it can be, parenting arrangements should be made with the child’s best interests as the focus.
Your childcare and parenting arrangements can be:
- An oral agreement between parents;
- A written agreement known as a parenting plan. This is decided upon jointly by the parents, but is not legally enforceable;
- A written agreement that is known as a consent order. This is decided upon by both parents and approved by a court. The court approval makes it legally enforceable.
- A parenting order, which is decided upon by the courts. This type of agreement is usually used when the parents cannot come to an agreement together.
The agreement used in your situation should always have the best interests of the child as the focus.
What to consider when making a parenting arrangement
There is no set format when it comes to parenting and custody arrangements. However, to make it easy to understand and avoid any potential issues, it’s best to have an agreement that is clear and practical.
It should also be made in a way that gives your child the best chance to have a meaningful relationship with both parents (if it is in their best interest to do so) and prevent their lives from being disrupted as much as possible.
While it may be difficult to accept, it may not be practical for a child to spend as much time with one of the parents as they do with the other. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent the child spends less time with will have less say in their child’s life. Unless it has been decided that it is not in the child’s best interest, parents in Australia have the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility – which means that they are entitled to joint decisions about the welfare, development and care of their children. You can learn more about parental responsibility in Australia here.
Some of the factors you should consider when making a parenting arrangement plan include:
- The work hours of the parents;
- Where the parents live (the distance between their homes);
- Where the child/ren’s school is;
- The child’s schedule, including school and other activities;
- How disruptive travelling may be for the child;
- How realistic it is for the parents to be able to stick to the schedule without having to make drastic changes;
- Any special care needs or requirements of the children (and the parents);
- The child’s wishes and thoughts; and
- The child’s age.
The above list includes only some of the factors that should be considered – ultimately what is important or impactful in your circumstances could differ entirely.
Shared Parenting Custody Arrangements That Could Work for You
Every family’s circumstances are unique, which can make finding the right custody arrangement for you a bit tricky. To help you think about your circumstances and the type of arrangement you need, we’ve put together some information about some of the most common custody schedule arrangements below:
Alternate Weeks Shared Custody
This type of parenting arrangement involves the child/ren living with one parent during the week and swapping to the other parent (usually at some point on the weekend) and living with them in turn for a week. This could be after school on the Friday or during the weekend.
This type of arrangement usually requires the parents to live relatively near to one another, or at least in close proximity to the child/ren’s school.
- The child/ren gets to spend equal amounts of time with both parents
- It allows kids to go to school without having their week disrupted, promoting stability
- It makes it easier for kids to be able to do extracurricular activities
- This type of arrangement can be flexible in terms of the length of time a child spends with each parent – for older children, it could extend to alternating fortnights.
- Depending on the child/ren’s age, spending a week with only one parent, without seeing the other one may be big ask for the child – especially for younger children.
- Can be difficult for the parent who’s in the off week to spend a long period of time without seeing the child.
Alternate Weeks with a Visit Shared Custody
This arrangement is similar to the above – the child/ren will spend a week (or fortnight) with a parent at a time, and changeover their living arrangements on the weekends, however, there will also be a visit or time with the other parent (the one who they are not living with that week) arranged.
- This option has the same benefits as the above, as well as that the children get to spend equal amounts of time with each parent but not have to go too long without seeing the other – a particularly good option for younger children.
- May require the parent’s schedules to be a bit more flexible.
- Could also limit where the parents live as this type of arrangement is often easier when the parents live near to one another.
Alternate Weekend Shared Custody
This type of arrangement sees one parent have the child/ren every alternate weekend, but not during the week. This may involve the parent picking up the child from school on a Friday and taking them back to the other parent’s house on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning.
- If one parent has a particularly heavy or inflexible work schedule, they may only have time on weekends, this arrangement can work.
- The parents may not need to live as close to each other as they do in other arrangements as the changeover only happens every second weekend.
- This arrangement can skew the relationship of the child with the parents. The weekend parent could be seen as the fun parent, and as a result may be taken less seriously than the other parent.
- It also means that the weekend parent spends significantly less time with the child and is not involved in their weekday routine.
When parents live considerable distances apart, it may not be practical to spend time at each parent’s place regularly. In this type of arrangement, the child/ren will predominantly live with one parent during the school term, and then spend time with the other parent during school holidays.
In this type of arrangement, it’s particularly important to ensure the parent who lives far away maintains regular contact with their child and that the other parent facilitates this communication.
- If one of the parent’s jobs requires them to move, this arrangement allows them to have scheduled time with their child.
- It provides stability for the child during the school term.
- Depending on the circumstances of the parent’s relationship there may be room for flexibility and parental visits if the parent who lives far away is visiting the town or city where the child primarily lives.
- This arrangement can be difficult if the child/ren does not understand the situation, as they may find it hard to spend such a long time away from their other parent.
- Can be difficult for the parent who isn’t the primary carer as they spend less time with their child/ren.
- Can be difficult for the primary parent as they will have their situation more heavily impacted by their child’s needs.
Rotating schedules usually sees children alternating parents every few days, rather than working in weeks or longer periods.
Sometimes referred to as specific number combinations, such as 2-2-3 or 2-2-5, the child/ren stays with one parent for two days, then the other for two days, then back to the other parent for 3 or more days. It can essentially be any number of day combinations – it’s just whatever works best for the parents and children.
- This arrangement can be extremely flexible
- It’s particularly good for children who are younger and not used to spending too much time apart or find it difficult to understand the separation.
- The amount of time the children spend with each parent is usually pretty close to equal.
- This requires the parents to live near one another
- For this type of arrangement to be most successful, the parents should be on good terms
- It can be very disruptive to children and parents due to the frequent changeovers.
Parents move in and out of the children’s home
This type of arrangement is a bit less conventional – whereas all of the other arrangements above see the children travelling between the parent’s homes, this option sees the parents move in and out of the home that the children live in. The parents may rent or buy a home that the children will have as their permanent residence, and the parents move in and out of the home based on their parenting schedules.
- Potentially less disruptive for children as they don’t need to move in and out of each of their parent’s homes
- There is no need for the children to have two bedrooms or two sets of anything.
- The parents may need to each have another residence outside of the children’s primary residence, which means it could be more costly.
- Requires the parents to have a good relationship with each other as they may need to see each other at the children’s home.
How to make parenting and custody arrangements
Figuring out the best steps to take when making a parenting arrangement custody plan can be almost as difficult as coming up with the arrangement itself.
Here are the basic steps to take:
- Discuss your parenting plan with your child/ren’s other parent. It’s highly encouraged for parents to work out these arrangements together, and if possible, without the intervention of the courts. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, but even if you don’t have the best relationship with your ex-partner, you likely have the same goal as them, which is to work out an arrangement that is best for your children. If you can agree on a plan together on how to co-parent then this can become your parenting plan. It can be an oral agreement or a written agreement. A written agreement can be formalised by the courts by applying for a consent order.
- Talk to your kids about the agreement. If you’ve managed to come to an agreement, talking to your children about it can help them to understand the situation and why particular decisions have been made. It can also make the children feel more involved in the process.
- If you haven’t been able to come to an agreement about the custody and parenting of your children, then you may need to participate in family dispute resolution. This could lead to a parenting arrangement being developed. If it doesn’t then you may need to proceed to court to have parenting orders made for you.
- Talk to an experienced child custody lawyer about your situation. You can seek legal advice at any point of your separation and parenting journey. Whether you need to go to court for a parenting order or you just need to understand your rights and responsibilities, an experienced family lawyer who specialises in child custody matters can help you.
- Seek parenting orders in court. If you and your former partner are unable to come to any agreement, then going to court may be your only option. This should be treated as a last resort option as you don’t have as much control over the outcome of these arrangements. Decisions made in the court for parenting orders will be made with the best interests of the child as the focus.
How we can help
Whether you’ve recently separated from your partner and need to understand your parenting responsibilities and obligations or you’ve just recently found yourself involved in a parenting dispute of any sort – here at Unified Lawyers, we can help you.
Our team is highly experienced in parenting and child custody matters and our lawyers can provide advice, negotiate on your behalf, and even represent you when required. Parenting matters can already be complex enough, and you don’t need to sort them out alone.
Call us on 1300 667 461 today.