Ok, so the marriage or relationship didn’t work out…, but there is something that absolutely has to work. You are parents. Parents of kids that still needs the love care and support you gave them when you were together now that you will be apart. The end of your relationship should not be the end of your parenting relationship. But how do you get there? How do you make sure that your child or children are taken care of when they are with your ex?  It’s going to take commitment, not to each other so much this time, but definitely towards your kids. The Law recognise that relationships status can change but wants to build in safeguards to protect children in cases where the marriage or relationship came to an end. This is done through the provisions of in the Children’s Act that encourages the development of a PARENTING PLAN between the parents.

What is a parenting plan?

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A parenting plan is a legally constituted document provided for in the Children’s Act 2005 of South Africa.  It covers various aspects related to the care and contact of minor children born out of a marriage or any other relationship. The parenting plan also makes provision for the rights of biological fathers in cases where the parents were not married. A parenting plan is an agreement between the co-holders of parental rights and responsibilities towards their children. The plan should always be in the best interest to the child or children. The parenting plan contains the negotiated decisions of both parents regarding the upbringing of their children in respect of:

  • The shared values and norms that will underscore both parent’s parenting interactions in which the children will be brought up on
  • Financial responsibilities (maintenance) of each parent
  • Access of parents to their children including access of third parties (i.e. grandparents, new relationships ect)
  • Residency of children including major holidays, birthdays and any other special events
  • Health provisions such as medical aid coverage, medical consent and medication
  • Decision making and shared parenting tasks including how discipline will be handled, how disagreements about aspects in the parenting plan and those that may arise will be managed
  • The names that the child/ren will be called by including nicknames
  • Religious affiliation, attendance and religious ceremonies
  • Schooling of children including language, type of schools as well as extramural activities
  • Any other specified aspect of the child/ children’s rearing that has to be considered

When do I need a parenting plan?

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A parenting plan can be drawn up when one of the following two conditions apply to the parent’s circumstances.

  1. When the relationship or marriage has come to an end and both parties agree that they want to draw up a parenting plan as part of securing and exercising their parental rights and responsibilities towards their children, or
  2. When one or both parents are experiencing difficulties in exercising their responsibilities and rights they may decide on a parenting plan in order to help make sure that these rights and responsibilities are exercised in respect of the child/ren.

A parenting plan can be drawn up at any time after a relationship has come to an end. The best time to develop the plan is before the divorce is finalised. The parenting plan then becomes part of the divorce settlement and the agreements herein concerning the care and contact maintenance ext., becomes the binding rules for both parents. A parenting plan can also be drawn up after the parents’ divorce and changes to the divorce settlement regarding the issues concerning the children can be formalised. Parenting plans should be registered either at the Office of the Family Advocate or the Children’s Court who are authorised to make the contents of the plan a legally binding order.

What is the difference between our divorce settlement and a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is specifically focussed on the issues concerning the minor children born from or adopted in any relationship. It does not cover issues such as the division of property, debt pension funds or any other matter that does not directly relate to the care, contact and maintenance of the children. These other matters should be settled by a lawyer and be made part of the broader divorce settlement and included in the final divorce order.

How do we draw up a parenting plan?

Parenting plan can be drawn up by a social worker, psychologist or a suitably qualified person. For instance the social worker may hold sessions with both parents and cover the general contents of the parenting plan as it specifically relates to their child/ren. These decisions are then documented by the social worker into the parenting plan which she would then register with the Children’s Court or Office of the Family Advocate to make it a legally binding order. These sessions can either be done individually or together depending the circumstances of each family. The role of the social worker is to build the best interest of the child into the parenting plan within the means and circumstances of each parent. Taking a neutral position and mediating decisions where the parents don’t agree on is essential to the success of the process.

Can my children take part in drawing up a parenting plan?

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As a social worker I am always committed to let children participate as much as what is realistic given the age and location of the children. It is wise to where possible to assess the children in order to obtain their life world experience. This can give valuable information on how care and contact should be negotiated within the rights of each parent. I prefer to also do a basic abuse screening with the children to determine if there is any safety issues related to both of the parents. Children may have specific questions such as “who will pay for my piano lessons” or “who will take me to soccer practice” and it’s important to give them an opportunity to ask these questions and get answers. Once the parenting plan is complete it is also a good idea to work it through with children on the level that they can understand to make sure that they know how things will work in their lives from there on going forward.

How do we make changes to a parenting plan?

Parenting plans are made with the information available and the circumstances in which the parents find themselves in at the time when the plan is drawn up. Its aim is to put a sustainable plan forward that can last without many revisions. But circumstances do change and parenting plans then must be revised. You may approach a social worker, psychologist or suitably qualified person to enter into new discussions on the topics and make changes to the plan. The new pan then should be submitted to the Office of the Family Advocate or Children’s Court who will then issue a new order based on the new plan. The new plan will then be in effect from the date specified on the order.

What do I do when my ex doesn’t keep their end of the parenting plan?

The parenting plan becomes a legally binding document once it has been authorised as part of the Divorce Order, Children’s Court Order or Family Advocate register. Both parties are then legally required to stick to the parenting plan. If a parent does not fulfil their parental responsibilities they can be taken to the Maintenance Court or Children’s Court. It is then in the discretion of the Court to determine a consequence to the action of the parent that is in breach of the parenting plan. This could include garnishing orders, fines or even jail time. The benefit of the parenting plan is that it is a negotiated agreement that hopefully contains the heart of the parents toward their children. The parenting plan is a valuable safety net and a guarantee to the children that their parents will keep their commitments towards them.

Vita Nova services

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At Vita Nova you will find an experienced social worker who takes great care in developing a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child or children within the parameters of the means of the parents. The parenting plan is negotiated carefully, sensitively and takes the view and concerns of your child into consideration in developing a sustainable plan. The costs of the whole process is shared between both parents.

This service at Vita Nova Counselling Centre include the following:

  1. Individual or combined sessions in which the parenting plan is negotiated (average of 6 sessions)
  2. The socio- emotional assessment of the children (average of 4 sessions)
  3. The drawing up of the parenting plan according the regulations of the Children’s Act
  4. Submitting and registering the parenting plan with the Office of the Family Advocate or Children’s Court

For further information call us at 082 541 4357