Raising children in the stressful modern age is no mean feat, even in circumstances where there is a stable and loving relationship between two parents. In cases where parents break up, whether they were married or not, feelings of love and intimacy are usually replaced by feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment. In these cases, having a written document to define and ring-fence the obligations, rights, and expectations of the parties can ease an otherwise difficult transition period in the lives of the parents and the children.
Although it might seem unthinkable to enter into any form of agreement with a difficult ex-partner, the benefits of entering into a Parenting Plan are so immense that a compelling argument exists for attempting to bury the hatchet temporarily during the negotiation and planning phase.
Here are five reasons why you should attempt to agree on a Parenting Plan during your break up.
1. Avoid Disputes and Uncertainty
Raising children is much like running a business. Overheads must be met, decisions must be made, and considerations of policy must be put into place. In any business, if communication fails, the business usually falls apart.
There are very few businesses as important as raising a child, and there are very few scenarios where communication disintegrates quite so profoundly and completely as in a breakup.
Think of a Parenting Plan as if it were a Business Plan; The aim of the business being to provide stability, care, and love to children during an immensely difficult transition period. The Parenting Plan deals with most day-to-day issues, and spells out to the parties their obligations and their rights. This avoids scenarios where parties who are already at loggerheads are forced to talk to one another more than is necessary under circumstances where every interaction can lead to damaging and acrimonious conflict.
Most parenting plans set out, quite thoroughly, policy considerations relating to the children. In this way, both parents know exactly what is expected of them in any given scenario. Therefore, parents are able to portray a united front to the children even though the parents themselves may be embroiled in bitter rivalry.
2. If a dispute arises, deal with it quickly and effectively
Most parenting plans contain dispute resolution clauses. These dispute resolution clauses spell out exactly what action needs to be taken in the event that the parents are unable to reach agreement on a particular issue, or have reached a state of deadlock.
Some of the mechanisms built into parenting plans to assist parents to deal with their disputes are mediation, parenting coordination, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes. These processes are usually much more cost-effective and speedy than litigation by means of the Court, and are certainly much less acrimonious and/or traumatic.
In cases where a dispute has arisen, the issue is usually misinterpretation of the parenting plan, or nonadherence to the parenting plan, both of which issues are capable of being resolved fairly easily.
3. Ensure that the needs of the children are met
As I have set out above, it is difficult for parents going through a split to communicate. Oftentimes, the uncertainty which invariably follows a lack of communication can be very damaging to the children.
Very young children are not able to effectively communicate their needs to their parents. It is therefore the responsibility of the parents to cater to these needs without having been asked to do so by the children. In cases where parents do not communicate, it is very easy for the needs of the children to be neglected. In most cases, sadly, the needs of the children are not neglected by malice or spite, but simply by misunderstanding, or parents being at cross-purposes.
Parenting Plans create effective frameworks to ensure that the children’s needs are met even though there is no effective communication between parents.
4. The law requires it
Section 33(2) of the Children’s Act, 38 of 2005, requires parents to attempt to agree to a Parenting Plan before seeking the assistance of the Court in cases where they are experiencing difficulty in exercising their responsibilities and rights.
Section 33(2) reads as follows: “If the co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child are experiencing difficulties in exercising their responsibilities and rights, those persons, before seeking the intervention of a court, must first seek to agree on a parenting plan determining the exercise of their respective responsibilities and rights in respect of the child.”
The current prevailing case law contains a number of examples where parents (and their attorneys) have been subjected to severe punishment for failing to consider entering into a Parenting Plan.
5. Save money and time
Most matters regarding children are dealt with in the Children’s Court or the High Court. In such matters, the assistance of the Office of the Family Advocate is enlisted. These processes, unfortunately, take notoriously long to finalise.
In some cases, Social Workers and/or Psychologists in private practice are consulted. These professionals in Private Practice are very costly.
Litigation costs relating to children’s matters can easily reach upwards of R 100 000.