South African Family Law makes provision for separating and divorced parents to enter into a Parenting Plan (Parenting Agreement) with one another for purposes of regulating the incidence and exercise of their respective responsibilities and rights over their minor child.
Sections 33 and 34 of the new Children’s Act 38 of 2005 which came into operation in April 2010 deals with the content of Parenting Plans as well as the formalities for registration of Parenting Plans with the relevant institution, be it registered with the Family Advocate’s Office or the Court, as required by the circumstances of the matter at hand and the parents’ wishes.
While Parenting Plans are not legislatively defined, Section 33(1) read with Section 33(3) of the Children’s Act essentially indicates that a Parenting Plan is an agreement which co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights enter into with one another for purposes of their “determining the exercise of their respective responsibilities and rights in respect of the child” and that such Parenting Plan may include inter alia issues pertaining to :
- The residence of the child
- The non-resident parent’s contact with the child
- Third-party contact with the child
- Issues pertaining to the school and religion of the child
- Maintenance for the child
Section 33 stipulates at subsection (2) that if co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights are experiencing difficulties in the exercise of their respective responsibilities and rights, those parents must – prior to seeking Court intervention – first attempt to agree on a Parenting Plan utilizing the assistance of a Family Advocate, Social Worker, Psychologist, or a suitably qualified Mediator for such purpose.
Insofar as the formalities for registration of a Parenting Plan are concerned, Section 34 provides that the Plan must be in writing, that it may be registered with either the Family Advocate’s Office or the Court at the instance of the parties, that the formalities set out in Regulation 9 to the Children’s Act must be complied with in that Form 8 to the Regulations must be completed and signed by all the parties with this form accompanying the Parenting Plan at the time of application for registration of the Parenting Plan, alternatively at the time of application for the Parenting Plan to be made an Order of Court.
Notably, Regulation 10 of the Children’s Act provides that where co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights are experiencing difficulties in the exercise of their responsibilities and rights, not only must they utilize the services of either a Family Advocate, Social Worker, Psychologist, or suitably qualified Mediator but that such professional must sign the necessary Statement confirming that :
- The Parenting Plan was prepared by them
- The information concerning the contents of the Parenting Plan was furnished to the child, bearing in mind the age, maturity, and stage of development of the child
- The child was given the opportunity to express his/her views and that these views were given due consideration (alternatively in the case of a Mediator that the parties confirm that the child was given an opportunity to express his/her views and that those views were given due consideration).
The benefits of a Parenting Plan are manifold:-
A Parenting Plan provides certainty for parents as to their respective parenting roles and responsibilities in respect of the child.
It provides certainty and emotional stability for a child essentially insofar as their day-to-day routine and maintenance requirements are concerned.
The written document ensures that all relevant issues pertaining to the life requirements of a specific child has been taken into account and adequate provision has been made for such requirements.
It eliminates potential “strife-areas” for parents thereby ensuring a greater probability of peace and calm for all concerned, in particular, the child.
For further reading see also the role of the case manager (or parenting co-ordinator) for assisting parents in high conflict divorce matters https://www.traceyleighwessels.com/case-managers/ as well as the web-article on Mediating Parenting Plans and its advantages for children