Some moms and dads may make co-parenting look easy, but for many, maintaining a healthy relationship and getting along with an ex after a breakup or divorce, isn’t always easy. Especially when it comes to raising kids and agreeing on how to give them the love, care and support they deserve. Successful co-parenting doesn’t require parents to best friends, only to put personal differences aside and the children first. As a renowned psychotherapist, Dr Anne Brown puts it “Co-parenting is not a competition. It’s a collaboration of two homes working together with the best interest of the child at heart.”

Taking a child-focused approach that prioritises the children’s needs isn’t just good parenting; it’s a legal obligation set out in the Children’s Act of 2005. But, often its easier said than done, especially when co-holders of parental rights disagree about exercising their responsibilities. From a legal and practical perspective, parenting plans are a great way to formalise arrangements around raising children and avoiding long, traumatising and expensive fights in court. LAW FOR ALL take a closer look at what goes into drawing up parenting plans in South Africa.

What are parenting plans?

Essentially, a written parenting plan is an agreement between parents that outlines how they will exercise their parental rights and duties after separating. Usually, parenting plans in South Africa, are collaboratively drafted by both parents with the help of a neutral third party or mediator, such as a lawyer, a social worker or psychologist. This valuable legal tool assists parents on various issues, including care, contact, and financial contributions. The agreement also covers essential decisions about raising children in separate homes, such as:

  • where and with whom the children will reside;
  • contact between the children and other people (including grandparents);
  • schooling and religion;
  • the values and beliefs parents will draw on when interacting with the children;
  • rules and guidelines for discipline;
What are the benefits of having a parenting plan in place?

Drawing up a plan supports parents to build a stable and respectful co-parenting relationship where they can communicate, negotiate and cooperate on the matters that affect their family. Clear guidelines enable ex-partners to work together to raise their children, manage expectation and minimise potential conflict between them. Most importantly, parenting plans protect the children’s rights by prioritising their best interests and ensuring that they receive the care and support they need.

Do children have a say in parenting plans in South Africa?

While a parenting plan provides a sense of certainty for parents, it’s ultimately what’s best for the children. And what better way to get insight into their needs and feelings than involving them in the process? Legally, the children also have a say about the matters that affect them directly, such as who they want to live with, how much time they want to spend with a specific parent, where they want to celebrate special occasions, etc. Of course, how much input the kids have depends on their age and maturity.

When is a parenting plan necessary?

It’s a good idea to set up a parenting plan soon after a child is born (if the parents are not in a relationship) or right after the relationship or marriage comes to an end. If either parent struggles to exercise their parental rights or fulfil their duties, a parenting plan helps to regulate the situation. Our laws discourage fighting things out in court before talking things through and trying to find an amicable solution.

How to draw up a parenting plan in South Africa?

The first port of call for parents would be to approach a lawyer, social worker or psychologist. Through a series of meetings, both parents will discuss and negotiate the rules of the parenting plan. It’s also vital for children to share their input, and once the plan is drawn up, to explain it to them in a clear and uncomplicated way. Once finalised, the parenting plan must be signed. Keep in mind that parenting plans need to be approved by the court before it is legally binding on parents. The parenting plan can be incorporated in a divorce settlement or registered at the Children’s Court of the Family Advocate’s office.

Can a parenting plan be changed or amended?

Our laws recognise that children’s needs evolve and parents’ situations change. Parenting plans need to be continually reviewed and amended for the benefit of the children. Parents simply have to approach the lawyer, social worker or psychologist again to get the ball rolling. Once the changes have been negotiated and agreed, the revised parenting plan will have to be registered at the Children’s Court or Family Advocate’s Office.

What happens if a parent doesn’t honour the parenting plan? How to enforce a parenting plan.

As a binding document, it gives co-parents peace of mind knowing they can get legal help if the agreement isn’t honoured. Legally speaking, both parents are required to keep their commitments and to stick to the parenting plan. And, if either parent doesn’t fulfil their duties, they are technically in breach, and the other parent can approach the Children’s Court or Maintenance Court (depending on the situation) for assistance. Defaulting parent face penalties, including fines, garnishee orders and jail time.

We’ve got your back!

LAW FOR ALL’s policies are pocket-friendly and provide comprehensive legal cover. If you need a caring legal expert to assist with negotiating a parenting plan and, we’ve got your back! What’s more, we can also refer you to one of our super affordable Panel Attorneys to assist with the registering of the parenting plan!