Parenting Plan Vs Consent Order – What’s the Difference?

Parenting Plan Vs Consent Order – What’s the Difference?

Deciding to go your separate ways is never easy but when there are children involved, it’s really tough.

Who will your children live with and how much time will you both get to spend with them?

It’s a hard call.

We understand that this can be an incredibly emotional and draining time. That said, if you can reach an agreement with your partner over your children’s living arrangements, you can avoid the need to go to court and save yourself time and money.

It’s always best to document any agreement you make with your ex-partner and there are two ways of doing this – with a Parenting Plan or a Consent Order.

To help you make an informed decision, carry on reading to learn the difference between the two.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement between you and your ex-partner that is written down and signed by both of you. It should address all aspects of your children’s care, welfare, and development, and contain the following information:

  • Who your children will live with
  • Time spent with the other parent
  • Practical considerations relating to your children’s day-to-day living
  • How you will both liaise on major long-term issues affecting your children

A Parenting Plan is a useful option and provided you and your ex remain on speaking terms, it allows for flexibility.

Should your family circumstances change, for instance, or as your children get older, the existing Parenting Plan can be replaced with an updated version provided both parents are in agreement.

Furthermore, unlike a Consent Order, a Parenting Plan can contain provision for support and maintenance.

However, do remember that a Parenting Plan is not a legally binding document. Therefore, if court proceedings are required at a later date, the judge will make a call based on what he or she considers to be in the best interests of your children. So while the Parenting Plan will be given consideration by the court, it might not always result in the desired outcome.

So now you know about Parenting Plans, let’s take a look at Consent Orders and what’s involved.

What is a Consent Order?

A Consent Order contains similar information to that of a Parenting Plan and also has to be signed by both parents.  

The main difference between this and a Parenting Order is that once the Consent Order has been signed by both parties and approved by the Court, it becomes a legally enforceable document. Consequently, it’s very difficult to make any changes unless your circumstances have changed significantly.

In addition, should it be found that a parent has contravened a Court Order without having reasonable grounds to do so, certain penalties may be applied. These can range from compensating the other parent for time lost with their children, to having a prison sentence imposed.

Which is the best option?

It’s hard to determine what the best option is since each case is different and depends on the individuals and their particular family circumstances.  

Pros and Cons

A Parenting Plan is best suited to separated parents that remain amicable and able to discuss matters relating to their children quite freely. It’s also a good option for couples wanting some structure in their co-parenting agreement.

Consent Orders, on the other hand, may be considered a preferred option if you don’t trust one another to comply with the agreement. Not only is a Consent Order a long-term legally binding parenting agreement, but it also acts as a deterrent to anyone who might otherwise consider breaking the rules. Moreover, it provides the means for enforcement and penalisation.

You should note that a fee of $165 will be incurred when filing for an application for a Consent Order with a court.

Children should come first

When faced with the choice between a Parenting Plan and a Consent Order, your children’s best interests should always be your main concern. By drawing up your own guidelines and expectations rather than leaving a court to make that decision on your behalf, you’ll both be satisfied that any terms outlined are the best they can be for your given family circumstances.

If you need any further help in understanding the difference between a Parenting Plan and a Consent Order or need expert advice tailored to your circumstances, then please don’t hesitate to contact our Family Lawyers at Strategic Lawyers in Townsville.

How Best To Deal With Child Custody During The Coronavirus Crisis

How Best To Deal With Child Custody During The Coronavirus Crisis

For the vast majority of people, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a profound and serious impact on everyday life. The observance of social distancing and isolation means that complex situations such as parenting orders, which can be challenging at best – are now made even more difficult.

This is why one of the most frequently asked questions for family lawyers right now is “How can I best manage my shared child custody arrangements in light of the current situation?

As the Principle Lawyer for Strategic Lawyers, many people ask me if they still need to comply with court orders and how they go about managing changeovers now that schools in Queensland have closed.

The key point is that people need to continue to comply with court orders where absolutely possible.

However, the Family Court of Australia also recognises that in this present climate there may be situations that arise where compliance with current court orders can prove difficult, if not impossible.

This may be caused where any child-parent meetings occur at a designated contact point outside that of the parental home. Or, any ‘pick up’ arrangements occur at a particular school and that school is now closed.

Alternatively, there may be genuine safety concerns where either the other parent or someone in close contact with the parent is showing symptoms of COVID 19 and may otherwise restrict the safe movement of the child from one house to another.

If you do find yourself faced with any of the situations above then communication is key. Here are some pointers…

  • Try talking to the other party to come up with a workable and practical solution that tackles these problems.
  • If you cannot communicate, then speak via a third-party mediator to work out a sensible resolution.
  • Each parent should firstly consider the safety of the child, but in addition, take the concerns of the other parent into account when making new or revised arrangements.

Understandably, these unprecedented times mean that parents may feel torn between wanting to limit their child’s movements and breaching parenting orders. However, our advice to clients would be to make sure that the other party (parent) is not missing out.

Here are some helpful ways that you can do this…

Maintaining telephone calls

More importantly than ever, telephone calls should be maintained during this period. So ensure you set aside and agree on telephone time with the other parent and your child – Video chat like Facetime or Skype are good options.

When or if this is not possible, it might be an idea to …

Invent ‘make-up time’ or ‘credits’

If the current situation causes the other party to miss out on visitation rights, you might want to try and agree on a system of make-up time or credits. Document the agreement where possible by putting it in writing or email to the fact that any time lost now during the pandemic, will be redeemed in full once the period of self-isolation is over.

What about parents who are isolating their children due to health concerns?

Naturally, it’s imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children including their safety and wellbeing. However, any parent who is self-isolating their child for health reasons should still make every conceivable effort to ensure their child continues to maintain a relationship with the other parent, even if it isn’t face-to-face.

So what’s the key takeaway?

If an agreement can be reached about any child custody arrangements, even if only for a short period of time, then ideally, it needs to be put in writing. Consent order applications can be filed electronically to the Court for any changes in parenting orders. Furthermore, because there is no hearing involved, any decisions are quick.

Failing that, then make things clear by email, text, Talking Parents or WhatsApp conversation. This can help the Court to understand what has and what hasn’t been agreed, especially if there is a need for further Family Law Court hearings at a later date.

If it isn’t possible to seek any form of compromise, then interested parties can mediate their differences through law firms like ours. Again, agreed applications can be filed electronically with the courts for speedy results. Otherwise, urgent applications to the court can also be made.

If you’d like to find out more information about how to navigate child custody during this difficult time or need further mediation, then contact the team at Strategic Lawyers. We’re here to help you to reach the best collective solution for your child. Call today for a consultation on (07) 4795 1114.

Justice For Prison Inmates – We’re Intent On Change

Justice For Prison Inmates – We’re Intent On Change

Anyone sent to jail has certain basic rights and that includes legal help. Under the law, prisoners can phone their lawyers and arrange visits.

While this is only right and fair, visitation constraints are currently preventing Townsville lawyers from getting to see their clients in a timely manner – and clearly, this is a major cause for concern.

Not only is this having a significant impact on law firms but also on those individuals requiring representation.

We understand how upsetting it can be for family members and friends when a loved one is sent to prison and when they are anxiously waiting for an update on the prisoner’s situation. The question is…

What has caused this legal logjam in the first place?

In essence, there are two significant factors that collectively have contributed to the problem. They are as follows:

ill-conceived QCS initiatives

Much of the delay in proper justice for our clients has been caused in part by the lack of time allocated by Queensland Corrective Services for law-related visits.

Townsville Correctional Centre, for example, were granting lawyers just one-day visitation per week. Unfortunately, due to the number of prisoners seeking representation, a person that was eligible for bail may have had to spend a month in prison when their case should have been heard in a week or two.

Even so, this pales into insignificance when faced with a more alarming problem namely

The increase in lockdowns

The increase in violent or problematic incidents is also forcing many Queensland prisons into frequent lockdowns. This again causes delays on scheduled appointments which, in turn, has a knock-on effect.

So, why are lockdowns increasing?

There are a number of speculative reasons as to why prison lockdowns are on the increase. These include:

  • An increase in the number of dangerous people incarcerated
  • A decrease in prison officer numbers
  • Poor management of correctional facilities
  • Lack of government funding

Factual evidence supports the first of these reasons in that from January to August of last year (2019) there were 308 assaults on prison officers by prisoners. This is a staggering 64% increase on the 187 assaults which occurred during the year before.

In addition, as the number of dangerous prisoners increases, this has led to an influx of inexperienced recruits who are struggling to contain the problem. This culminated in an event in October of 2019 when two prison officers were brutally attacked. Inevitably, a lockdown ensued as prison officers walked out.

Similar incidents have also occurred throughout Queensland and in May 2019, six inmates of the Capricornia Correctional Centre were taken to hospital – one of them airlifted – after a suspected mass drug overdose. This again led to yet another prison lockdown.

Problematic repercussions

Because of restricted visiting rights and an increase in prison lockdowns, constant delays at prisons are giving lawyers no alternative but to postpone sentencing at the courts which is frustrating for magistrates, lawyers, corrections officers and the community as a whole.

To make matters worse… men are getting a raw deal

Due to the imposed visiting restrictions, lawyers are having to compete with a whole host of other professional bodies and family members who also need to gain access to see the prisoner.

As a result, and in some instances, lawyers are struggling to even gain access one day a week with their male clients.  And when they do, just 5 or 6 rooms are available for client conferencing so frequently, these rooms are already occupied.

Alternatively, in women’s prisons, visiting rights are far more relaxed and as a result, it’s considerably easier for lawyers to gain access to female clients.

Is it right that women prisoners have greater access to their lawyers than men do? Surely it should be fair and equal.

So where are we now?

Due to public and civil pressure, in recent weeks the QCS have relented and as the situation stands, lawyers can now gain access 3 days a week spread between the men’s and women’s centres, with the consideration of opening this up to 5 days. However, as one of our solicitors, Lea Bethune found, it’s not cut and dried. She had this to say…

The public’s perception of criminals is that they are all bad, but sometimes people can be in prison simply for committing too many traffic offences – which is why it’s important that we have timely access to gain their release.

“Unfortunately as many Queensland prisons continue to go into frequent lockdown even with the increased visiting rights, delays still have a huge impact on being able to carry out our job roles effectively and until the problem is looked at from the point of view of resources, then the QCS is really only paying lip service to the problem.

However, clients can rest assured that we’re doing our utmost to expedite cases quickly by utilising services such as video conferencing and in the meantime, we’ll continue to push for better visitation rights.”

Family Lawyer in Townsville – 4 Practical Matters to Consider Before Divorce

Family Lawyer in Townsville – 4 Practical Matters to Consider Before Divorce

When your world has come tumbling down around you, and your marriage is in tatters, our family lawyers in Townsville are here to offer advice and provide the support you need at this emotional time.

Most couples enter a relationship or marriage for the best intentions but unfortunately for many things change.

Relationships are complicated

Most people would agree that relationships can be complicated.

But guess what …….

When a relationship ends, things can become even more complex.

Sometimes you may need a family lawyer to help untangle your lives. Most people are surprised by how intertwined their lives have become and many are shocked at how difficult it is to extricate themselves from one another’s lives, especially when there are children and valuable assets involved. You may need to go through the equivalent of a divorce, even if you aren’t married!

To make sense of what we mean by this, we’re going to discuss 4 practical matters that you need to consider and address after you split. But first of all, let’s take a closer look at divorce.

What exactly is divorce?

Quite simply, a divorce in Australia is the legal termination of a marriage.

Some people choose to separate and not bother divorcing. Provided you don’t want to get remarried, legally that’s not a problem. 

However, if you put off divorcing, enter a serious relationship, and then unfortunately pass away, all manner of complications can unfold. This is because there are two different parties as partners who may have contributed to your property and assets.

Regardless of the legalities, many people choose to close this chapter of their life by divorcing. In 2018, for example, there were 49,404 divorces granted in Australia with the average duration of a marriage being 12.5 years.

Thanks to the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975 which allowed ‘no-fault divorce’ there’s no longer a need to prove who caused the relationship to end. You just need to show that the marriage isn’t working any longer and that you have been separated for 12 months or longer.

Work on agreements with or without a divorce

The secret of avoiding a whole slew of complications is to get your finances, property, and parenting agreed once you’ve decided to split from each other.

This is the sort of messy stuff you associate with a divorce and is something that even long-term couples who aren’t necessarily married should sort out.

It’s important to reach agreements on property and parenting before applying for a divorce order and even then, it’s advisable not to be too hasty. Why?

Because once your divorce becomes absolute, you only have 12 months from that date to ask the courts to deal with property matters. There are no rules that stipulate who gets what. Instead, each case is looked at on its own merits.

Even if you and your partner are in agreement on all matters, it’s still a good idea to get a family lawyer involved to ensure that everything is done properly and worded correctly and to show that agreements are ‘just and equitable’.

Separation and divorce can take a toll on everyone concerned but considering the following 4 matters can save you money, time, and anxiety later.

Four Matters to consider

  1. Separation and living arrangements

To prepare for separation, both parties, children and other dependents need to consider who is going to live with whom and where. There are countless possibilities from continuing to live together at the same address (but not as a couple) to totally restructuring the entire family unit, supported by a written agreement establishing living and visiting arrangements in advance.

Try and decide whether one of you should relocate right away or whether it’s in everyone’s best interests for you all to remain living together. This is likely to depend on whether the split is amicable and whether your financial situation allows for two residences.

  1. The kids

Separation and divorce can be particularly confusing, stressful and sad for children so it’s essential to put aside any personal differences and make their well-being your top priority.

If you have physically separated from each other, then try and agree as soon as possible a regular routine whereby each parent has access to their children. This also applies to grandparents and other family members who care about your children.

While this agreement doesn’t have to be formalised at this stage, it should have their best interests at heart. Any parent resisting access is likely to find that their divorce will become more complicated and more costly.

  1. Documentation

You’ll need to provide your family lawyer with documentation to help them understand and assess your situation. The more organised you are, the less time will be wasted. This may include such things as passports, your marriage certificate, driving licences, Wills, mortgage papers, Medicare cards and bank statements.

Put together a list of any significant dates and any agreements you have already made with your ex and consider your future. What would you like the outcome to be?

  1. Avoid going to Court

Working with a mediator and family lawyer to reach an outcome that is mutually beneficial is far better than placing one of your most important and biggest life decisions in the hands of a judge.

By taking control of the situation and shaping your future away from the courts, you’ll feel more empowered. In most divorce cases, dividing your assets and working out custody arrangements for the kids, has already been taken care of well before any final papers are signed. Ultimately, signing divorce papers simply gives both of you the go-ahead to legally remarry at a future date. If you need help or advice about separation and divorce then call Strategic Lawyers today on 07 4795 1114 to make an appointment. Our compassionate and experienced Family Lawyer in Townsville is here to secure your best outcome and wherever possible avoid the need for you to go to court, particularly when emotions are already running high.

Our Christmas Message to the Strategic Family

Our Christmas Message to the Strategic Family

While for many of our clients Christmas will be a joyful time, as lawyers we are always very aware of the difficulties many families face at this time of year.

We know that as some of us play tug-of-war with cheap crackers, laugh at the bad jokes and tissue-paper hats others will be forced to wear flattened green tracksuits behind razor-wired walls.

As many of us sit in anticipation of roasted meats and succulent, cold prawns, others are facing financial uncertainty that the most expensive time of year brings into painfully sharp focus.

And while many will see the wide-eyed joy of small children tearing at wrapping paper, for others there will be a little chair at the table with no one to sit in it.

Framed this way the Christmas season becomes one of sadness, not joy.

And this is not something as lawyers, entrusted with your best interests, we can ever forget – that while the holidays may come and go the problems many of us are facing will extend into the New Year.

For those facing a difficult Christmas please, know this.

In the New Year we will be the pick of truth to the walls that separate loved ones from their families.

We will be untying the strings that bind us to financial uncertainty and ensuring 2019 is a prosperous one.

And we will be ensuring that little chair is filled before it is outgrown.

Our offices will be open right throughout the Christmas break – excepting Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.

Should you require urgent legal help on any of these dates please call 13 14 LAW and someone will always answer the phone.

We look forward to helping you with your legal matter in 2019.

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