If you are separating and have children, you should try and arrange a plan for their care and support as soon as possible.
You should talk to your spouse/partner about:
- how to tell the children what is happening
- who stays in the family home
- where will the children live
- will they continue to attend the same school/kindergarten/day care
- where will the person who leaves the family home live
- how to financially support the children
- communicating with each other about the children after separation.
Separations that involve high levels of conflict can have a significant impact on children. Both parents should commit to discussing issues relating to the separation away from the children wherever possible.
You will need to decide whether you will try and work out arrangements for the children together or involve a lawyer.
There are many factors that determine which path couples take such as:
- the age of the children
- the relative balance of knowledge and power in the relationship
- whether there was family violence in the relationship
- the circumstances of the separation i.e. are you able to talk about things in a civil and respectful way.
If you are able to decide on arrangements for the children directly with the other parent, it is good to write down what you agree on. This does not have to be in a specific document or template but should be in writing and signed by both parties. This kind of agreement is called a ‘parenting plan’. The parenting plan should state where the children will live, when they will spend time with the other parent and anything else about the care of the children that is agreed by both parents. A parenting plan is not enforceable in a Court. It is a record of the agreement that was made about your children’s arrangements, and if you disagree about what should happen down the track the Court may have regard to this agreement.
A parenting order is a set of Orders made by a Court setting out the arrangements for your children. Parenting orders are often made by consent, if both parents can agree on the arrangements, but if the parents can’t agree a Judge will make a decision about appropriate parenting orders.
The parenting order will provide specific instructions such as:
- who the children will live with
- when the children will spend time with each parent and other significant people, for example their grandparents
- who is able to make decisions about long term and everyday issues for the children
- how and when the children will keep in contact with the parent that they do not live with.
A parenting order can also stop parents from doing certain things, such as drinking alcohol while the children are with them or speaking negatively about the other parent in the presence of the children.