In the modern-day context, families have become even more diverse than ever before. No one family is quite the same as the next. This however does not need to be a problem for when a child is born from any type of family. If you are newly divorced, single, in a complicated relationship, or wish to stay as partners but not get married, it is still possible to regulate how each person must look after and maintain the children.

This is where parenting plans fall in. A parenting plan, much as the name implies, is a plan put together which regulates the different principles and forms of maintenance which each “parent” or parental figure is to look after the children. The parenting plan can be as short or as long as you like and can contain even such principles as what religion the children are to be brought up in, or even the amount of pocket money they are to be given and from when.

A parenting plan will be a written agreement, much like a contract, and all the parents must sign thereto if they wish for it to be binding on them. A parenting plan can be written between the parents, or can be done with the assistance of an independent third party, or expert in the field. Such experts include a psychologist, attorney, or a social worker. Should the children be considered old enough to give their own input, it can most certainly also be used in the drafting of the parenting plan.

The parties should explore all considerable parts of the children’s lives and future when drafting such a parenting plan. This would mean that provisions should also be given to:

  1. The scholastic upbringing of the children, and whether the parties will make a contribution to school and to a college, university, or other institution;
  2. The religious upbringing of the children;
  3. The amount of contact for the children with each parent;
  4. How birthdays, holidays, Mother’s, or Father’s Day will be celebrated;
  5. What maintenance contributions can be expected of each parent;

This is only to name a few considerations which should be had for a parenting plan, and it is recommended that parties look to guidance in this regard.

A parenting plan is meant to be a roadmap and should be drafted with the understanding that each parent will follow the principles of the parenting plan in their interactions with the children. It is not recommended that the parenting plan be of such a strict regulatory nature that it leaves no room for possible errors by either of the parents.

A parenting plan should rather include provisions for how the parents will mediate where new problems arise, or for how decisions should be made in future, to take into consideration the ideas of both parents. The most important part of the parenting plan is of course that it should be in the best interests of the children. This is the core principle which should be held in mind with the drafting of the parenting plan.

The specific statutory provisions for a parenting plan are housed in Part 3 (Section 33 to Section 35) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, and sets out the contents, formalities and provisions made for when a parent is denying another parent access to the child to the detriment of the parenting plan. Section 34 sets out how the parenting plan, as agreed to and signed between the parties, can either be made an order of Court, or registered with the family advocate.

A parenting plan is a great way for any family to house the principles and way forward when it comes to the parenting of their children. It holds authority for the parents to keep each other accountable, but to do so in the best interests of the children. Should you be considering to draft a parenting plan, the principles as discussed should be kept in mind, and it is recommended that an expert be appointed to assist the parents.