When couples separate, arrangements for the children are often a breeding ground for ongoing conflict and resentment. In order to reduce issues, some parents decide to draw up a parenting plan or agreement regulating things such as where the children will live, when they will see the non-resident parent, and holidays. Read on to find out more.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents, and is entered into voluntarily. Plans typically cover practical issues, such as living arrangements, schooling, healthcare, and finances. It aims to help parents resolve matters amicably and informally, and can also include arrangements for wider family members such as grandparents, or aunts, and uncles.
Is a parenting plan legally binding?
Parenting plans are not automatically legally binding, although there is the option of formalising an agreement via a consent order granted by the court. Consent orders provide a way to make an informal agreement, such as a parenting plan, legally binding and therefore enforceable in the family court.
It is important to be aware of Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, known as the “no order” principle, which states that a court must not make an order unless it considers doing so is better for the child than making no order at all. This would appear to be at odds with a consent order, given there is no dispute. In these cases, the court must balance the no order principle against the grounds put forward in support of the consent order being made.
How do I apply for a consent order?
The parenting plan must be written and presented in a clear and unambiguous way, ideally covering the following areas:
- Who the children will live with and any relevant schedule
- When the children will see the non-resident parent together with the schedule, including dates and times
- Provision for flexibility in the arrangements and how this will be achieved
- Any conditions regarding contact, e.g., handover arrangements, who foots the bill for travel handovers, or what to do in the event that either parent is delayed or unable to attend
- Provision of a contact book. This is passed between those who have contact with and care of the children, and is generally used to detail matters of concern or importance, so the other parent is aware
- Arrangements for travelling abroad and conditions of travel. This includes holidays or extended periods visiting family members if applicable
The parenting plan should be signed and dated and attached to a C100 form, which allows you to apply for a court order to make arrangements or resolve a dispute regarding a child’s upbringing. Within this form, on page one under the section additional information required, there is a tick box question asking whether you are applying for an order to formalise an agreement. The parenting plan must be attached to the C100 form and submitted with the relevant court fee to your local family court.
There is no legal requirement to attend mediation (MIAM) if you are applying for a consent order to formalise a parenting plan.
Do I need a solicitor to prepare the parenting plan?
The parenting plan will be used by the court clerk as a guide to draft the final court order, so it is not mandatory to have a solicitor prepare it for you. However, it is sensible to obtain advice from a specialist family solicitor to ensure that everything is covered, and the plan is watertight.
How is a consent order enforced if it is breached?
The final court order encompassing the parenting plan will have mandatory information such as penal/warning notices setting out what happens in the event of a breach. However, this is not automatically enforced by the court, and you would need to complete the relevant court form to apply for enforcement of the consent order. This is done by completing Form C79.
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