By Elias Tabchouri, principal lawyer at Macquarie Lawyers
If you’ve recently split with your partner or spouse and you want to raise your children collectively and cooperatively, a co-parenting agreement can help.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is what happens when two separated or divorced parents still want to raise their children together. These arrangements, when managed carefully, can help parents raise happy, well-balanced kids.
The parents are no longer together but they must remain a team when it comes to putting the children’s interests first. However, this can be difficult for the parents when they’re no longer together as a couple. It’s important for both parents to agree and align on shared goals and outcomes with their children’s best interests at heart.
What is a co-parenting agreement and who needs one?
A co-parenting plan or agreement is a written document that outlines how parents will raise their children after a separation or divorce.
Principally written with the best interests of the children in mind, a good co-parenting plan details how much time children will spend with each parent, details of scheduling, how both minor and major decisions will be made between the two parents, how the split of responsibilities for education and extracurricular activities will be made, and more.
All parents who have gone through a separation or divorce are strongly recommended to draw up an agreement of this nature. Having a well thought–out and carefully considered co-parenting agreement will not only minimise disruption to the child’s upbringing but will also instill clear direction and guidelines around the child’s routine. It also sets a good example for the child when it comes to communication, and encourages an amicable relationship between the parents.
Co-parenting plans provide flexibility in that they can be rewritten and re-evaluated to adapt to the family situation as time progresses and the children grow older. They also have the power to amend any previous parenting orders made by a court.
What does a co-parenting agreement need to include?
Since an agreement of this type is a serious matter, it’s important for all parties involved who will have care of the child (parents, godparents, next of kin, grandparents and any other relative caretakers) to sit down together to discuss the options.
An agreement will typically outline who the child will live with, who will have parental responsibility, how finances relating to the children will be dealt with, and how any future disputes or disagreements will be dealt with.
Points to consider when drafting the agreement include:
- extracurricular activities
- diet and nutrition
- internet and TV usage
- parental roles and responsibilities
- family values and morals
- longer–term parental expectations
- emergency or spontaneous decision-making guidelines
- child custody
- child support
- residential schedule
- visitation plans
- custody during holidays
- financial responsibilities
- emergency procedures
- grandparents’ visitation plan
- child-related communication procedures
- last testament and will.
What about unmarried parents who have split up?
It’s important to have a written document to remind both parties to keep the common interests of their child separate from the split, even for couples who weren’t officially married before splitting up. When breakups get messy, it’s easy for parents to forget their shared goal of doing what’s best for their children. Having a written document to refer back to continuously can help keep emotions out of the process.
In addition to the traditional requirements of an agreement, unmarried parents should consider also including:
- a clear and concisely written description of parental roles and guidelines
- the children’s legal last name
- whether they have settled on legal or joint custody
- long-term legal procedures during emergencies.
The bottom line and most important concern for most parents is to put the best interests of the child first. As difficult as it can be, separated parents need to focus on the least disruptive path for raising children, and set aside all other emotional concerns and pride when discussing co-parenting. When this is the core focus of a co-parenting agreement, children can grow and develop as well-balanced humans.