If there are children in a relationship one of the most important things to sort out after a separation is the parenting arrangements.

It is a good idea to attend the Parenting Through Separation course after you have separated, to get an idea of some of the things you need to consider when making a parenting plan.

Sometimes the parents are able to agree on who will have the day-to-day care of the children, and how the other parent will have contact with the children.  Although some parents are able to get by on an informal arrangement, there is always a risk that parties will disagree on what is, or what should be in the parenting plan.  It is therefore a good idea to have a written record of what the parties have agreed on, so that everyone is clear. A written parenting plan is often called a Parenting Agreement.

A Parenting Agreement can be flexible if the parents are on good speaking terms.  As children grow and change their needs will change too.  Sometimes, it is the parents circumstances which change, impacting on what they can commit to. 

A Parenting Agreement can be good, as it can be easily changed if the parties agree, without going to Court.   If there is an existing Parenting Order in place, you will need to ask to Court if you want any changes made to it.

The downside of Parenting Agreements is that they are not enforceable.  That means if either party refuses to comply (for instance by not seeing the children, or refusing the other parent access to the children), it can be difficult to force compliance. 

If you are worried about the other party not following the Parenting Agreement, you can ask the Court to turn the Agreement into an Order.  This can either be done by consent or by one of the parties making an application to the Family Court.  Parenting Orders are enforceable, which means that if a party breaches it, they can be punished by the Family Court. 

Alternatively, if you are unable to even come to any agreement, you may ask the Court to assist.

Usually parties are able to attend Family Disputes Resolution first. At FDR a trained mediator assists the parties to talk through the issues and hopefully come to an agreement.

If FDR is not successful, the parties will then be able to apply to the Family Court to make a decision on the dispute.

Jaenine Badenhorst
Family Lawyer
Wellington