Sections 33 and 34 of the Children's Act 38 of 2005 makes provision for the parents of a child to stipulate in writing the parenting and living arrangements that will be followed in respect of that child.
WHAT IS A PARENTING PLAN ?
Essentially a Parenting Plan is a written document entered into between co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights providing guideline on the raising of the child as well as on the allocation of parental responsibilities and rights concerning that child.
WHAT IS THE AIM OF A PARENTING PLAN ?
The primary aim of a Parenting Plan is to provide certainty and predictability for the child as well as for the co-holders of responsibilities and rights as to how things will work in the future insofar as that child’s life and living arrangements are concerned. In order to be effective the Parenting Plan needs to be tailored according to the unique needs and requirements of that specific family unit - bearing in mind that each child forming part of that unit may need to have their own set of specific requirements taken into account in the Parenting Plan.
WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS FOR A PARENTING PLAN ?
When drafting a Parenting Plan specificity is to be preferred over vagueness so as to ensure increased security for the child and decreased possibility of future parental discord. By same token though, sufficient flexibility should be permitted within the Plan to accommodate unforeseen situations that may occur from time to time.
Having regard to the constitutional imperative of best interests of the child and the need for both predictability and flexibility within the Plan, co-holders of Parental Responsibilities and Rights would be wise when drawing up the Parenting Plan to gain the input of a relevant professional be it a Psychologist, Social Worker or Family Mediator.
WHAT ARE THE AREAS THAT SHOULD BE COVERED IN A PARENTING PLAN ?
The Children's Act does not stipulate the areas that would need to be covered in a Parenting Plan leaving this to the discretion of the parents. From a practical perspective though the areas that should ideally be dealt with in the Plan – bearing in mind that each family’s Parenting Plan will be distinct based on their own specific needs – include the following:
- The General Parenting Values That Are Important To The Parents In The Raising Of Their Children
- Parenting Styles Including the Mode of Communication that the Parents would like to have put in place in respect of their Communication with the Children
- The Place Of Residence Of The Child in other words whether there will be a Primary or Principal Place of Residence for the child or whether Residence will be Shared on a 50/50 basis
- The Child’s Contact With The Non-Residence Parent. The Inclusion of a Flexibility Clause for Contact on Other Occasions on Timeous Notice is always advisable.
- The Child’s Contact With Its Extended Family And With Significant Third Parties
- General Transportation Issues For Contact Periods And General Day-To-Day School and Extramural Transportation Needs
- The Mode Of Communication Between The Parents in respect of the Day-to-Day Life of the Child Including whether or not Joint Family-Meetings will be required herefor , The Sharing of School Reports & School Photographs; The Sharing of Information Concerning the extra-Curricular And Recreational Activities of the Child
- The Process of Decision-Making In Respect of the Child Including A Delineation Of Those Issues Requiring Joint-Decision-Making
- The Mode Of Future Dispute Resolution In the Event of Deadlock Over a Parenting Issue or a Provision Of The Parenting Plan
- The Process To Be Followed In The Event Of A Medical Emergency Arising
- Child-Minding Options and The Process To Be Followed For The Screening and Appointment Of Potential Child-Minders. Additionally whether the Parents Will be Given the Option of First Refusal for Childminding on a Specific Occasion Before a Third Party is Approached herein.
- The Procedure To Be Followed For Setting Up And Attending Meetings In Respect Of The Child With Schools & Other Significant Third Parties
- The Process To Be Followed For the Introduction Of The Child To Persons With Whom The Other Parent May Be Entering Into A Romantic Relationship
- Financial Support Of The Child including Medical, Educational and day-to-Day Support
- The Date For Future Review Of The Parenting Plan and whether the Plan will be Reviewed on a six-monthly or annual basis (This depending upon the age and developmental needs of the child).
Most parents worry about the impact that a divorce or a separation will have on the emotional well-being of the child. Research shows that for most children, this time is fraught with insecurity regarding their future and in respect of their concerns as to how their living arrangements as well as their contact with the other parent will be affected by the divorce or separation. It goes without saying that the stresses of divorce and separation on a child can be ameliorated by a well defined Plan that makes adequate provision for the future.