Raising a family together is hard work, and sometimes marriage and relationships don't survive. But splitting up when there are kids involved is even harder. Parent24's #dignifieddivorce series is here to help parents navigate the legal and emotional implications of a divorce.
When parents get divorced, a clear plan with regard to the daily care and education of their children needs to be submitted to court as part of their divorce settlement agreement.
How this works and what is required can be confusing and overwhelming to many, so we chatted to Sinta Ebersohn, Divorce Mentor at Fairdivorce.co.za, for expert advice on how to go about setting up a parental plan.
The ideal starting point for setting up a parenting plan would be based on a rebuttable presumption that unless there is clear danger, equally shared parenting is not only in the best interest of the child but also in the best interest of the whole family, she advises.
With this point of departure, parents can set out to determine the path forward in terms of how their children are to be raised, including authority to make decisions, allocating equal sharing of time and responsibilities as well as a method for mediating/resolving disputes without litigation.
The Children’s Act stipulates clearly that any dispute around matters which have a direct impact on children, has to be mediated and the courts are starting to pass judgement on legal representatives and parents who fail to do so.
Must read: Here’s what young people say helped them get through their parents’ divorce
Therefore, Sinta always advise parents to seek the unbiased facilitation of a reputable mediator to guide them through this process, even when they are not in conflict.
Collaborating in this way affords the best opportunity to meet all the needs of every member of the family who is affected by the divorce, she says, and it also allows parents to involve any additional support or expertise that they identify to be necessary.
This includes mental health support for family members who might be in need, financial advice with managing the joint assets and future planning, estate agents for selling, buying or renting property, legal support with submitting the final settlement to court and even practical support for matters which seem trivial such as sorting, organising and packing for example.
A Parenting Plan contains every detail about the day to day living arrangements of the children, this includes:
- Primary residence
- What day-care or school they attend
- What extra-mural activities like sport, arts & culture they participate in
- which parent is responsible for what functions in support of the children’s activities
- what religion the children will be raised with
- Regular contact with both sides of the family (this includes family friends)
- Medical care
- Financial contributions and more
Every family is unique, so there is no "one size fits all" parenting plan that will serve the best interests of your particular situation.
That is why a collaborative process, where every member has a voice (including children), serves divorcing families best.
Also read: How to maintain a mature relationship with your spouse during the divorce process
The courts are ordered to act “in the best interest of the child”, but one aspect that is often neglected is the ability of parents to sustain a situation or arrangement for the sake of the child, Sinta says.
If there is undue pressure on a parent or untenable stress or an imbalance of power or any responsibility that is unbearable, it is definitely not in the best interest of the child involved.
Every child needs a healthy, happy and secure parent first and foremost. When we are exhausted, anxious or deprived, it is very hard to maintain a grounded, compassionate and inspiring parental role, she says.
Separation and divorce is without a doubt a life-altering event which can potentially cause great harm to a family if not managed wisely.
Before you embark on the traditional route of legal battle to dissolve your marriage, Sinta advises that parents consider this: Ultimately, every parent wants the best possible life for their children and if we manage to look beyond our immediate disappointment, pain or resentment, we can clearly see that path, even if it is different from what we planned, hoped or imagined.
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