Divorce is a fact of life and should you decide to get married there is a possibility that you will split from your spouse.
That issue is compounded when children are involved who are not yet legal adults, as the subject of discussion must turn to parenting arrangements for the children which must be decided.
If in the fortunate event that you and your former spouse have an amicable split and agree on financial and living arrangements for the children, you can then write it down in a Parenting Plan, which lays out your respective wishes and choices for your offspring in this new situation.
A consent order is similar to a parenting plan but is approved by a court and legally enforceable - and is something that can be considered as an option for parents.
Things that need to be addressed when working out the child's circumstances moving forward include what responsibilities each parent should have, and whether it's equal or not. Duties such as financial arrangements may be based on the circumstances of both parties.
Time is also another factor - whether one parent will have the child for the weekend or for a whole week. It is important to specify the details of these arrangements.
Spending time with relatives other than the parents needs to be addressed, so discuss what exposure the grandparents can have.
Parents will also have to decide on the child's healthcare, education, and cultural experiences they are or are not allowed to come into contact with, among other matters.
Should you and your former spouse not be able to amicably reach agreement, proceedings may need to be commenced at Court.
The Court looks at the best interests of the children as the paramount consideration in the determination of what parenting arrangements are appropriate in the circumstances. Provided that there are no issues of child abuse or family violence, there is a presumption in all parenting proceedings that parents have equal shared parental responsibility in relation to their child.
This means that parents are required to consult each other and make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision with respect to major long-term decisions concerning their child. Major long decisions include the child’s: current and future education, religious and cultural upbringing, health, name and changes to the child’s living arrangements that make it significantly more difficult for a child to spend time with a parent.
Even though parents may have equal shared parental responsibility, this does not necessarily mean that a child will spend equal time with both parents. The Court must be satisfied that an equal time arrangement is in the child's best interests and reasonably practicable. If these two requirements are not met, the Court then considers whether an arrangement in which the child lives with one parent and spends substantial and significant time with the other parent is in the child's best interests and reasonably practicable.
In any event, when handling a divorce, it is important any decisions that are made are in the best interests of the child or children to ensure there is minimal effect on the child(ren) as a result of this change to their family structure.
Talk to an experienced family lawyer to discuss what options you have as a parent when a relationship concludes. They will be able to assist you with the necessary steps to protect your child moving forward after you and your spouse part ways.