12.141The court would look at the mediation agreement or parenting plan and the statement as to the arrangements of the children. The procedure would be similar to dealing with a consent order or decree, and in fact the mediation agreement may well be attached to a draft consent order. The parties would attend the court and the judge would ask them questions if he was not happy with the arrangements. The judge has a discretion to refuse to agree to the arrangements. This is reassuring to those who are concerned that parties may enter into arrangements in mediation or into parenting plans that do not meet the best interests of the children.
12.142We recommend that rules of court facilitate mediation agreements being converted into consent court orders. This should assist both compliance with the terms of the agreement, and its enforcement in the event of the arrangements breaking down.
12.143In Washington State, a standard parenting plan form must be completed dealing with parental responsibility for the child’s school year, holidays, birthdays and other major events.1276 Decision making in the areas of education, religion and medical decisions must be outlined. In addition, parents must indicate which choice of dispute resolution they wish to opt for if there are future conflicts. This includes court, mediation and counselling.
12.144Section 63C(2) of the Australian Family Law Act 1975, as inserted by the 1995 amendments, provides that a parenting plan may deal with residence, contact, and maintenance of a child and any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child. These detailed plans are specifically tailored to the needs of a particular family and can then be registered with the court. This is a preferable form of dispute resolution to the traditional order which gives custody to the mother with a vague “reasonable access” clause in favour of the father, even if the order is by consent. The parenting plans can be drawn up by a mediator, counsellor, social welfare officer1277 or solicitor.
12.145In Singapore, the Women’s Charter (Parenting Plan) Rules 1997 (Cap 353) came into operation on 1 May 1997. Before a petition for divorce is filed, the parties “shall try to agree on the arrangements for the welfare of every dependent child … and to enter into an agreed parenting plan.”1278 If the parties are unable to agree on the arrangements, they may draw up a parenting plan with the advice and assistance of persons who are trained in matters relating to child welfare. At the time of the filing of the petition, the parenting plan is also filed. If the petitioner is unable to agree a plan with the respondent, a proposed parenting plan is filed by the petitioner.1279 The court has the discretion to adopt the whole or part of the parenting
1276 Tompkins in “Parenting Plans - A Concept Whose Time Has Come” Family and Conciliation Courts Review, Vol. 33. no.3, (July 1995), 286, 296.
1277 In Australia the parties must have obtained independent legal advice and the solicitor must sign a statement to that effect, or have received assistance from a family and child counsellor, who would be a similar role to our social welfare officer.
1278 Rule 3(1) of the Family Law Rules.
1279 Ibid at rule 4.