Guide to Co-Parenting for Divorcing Parents in Singapore
If you are a parent undergoing divorce, co-parenting might be a significant concern that you might have. Here is a guide to co-parenting plans and the possible steps that you might take as you decide on your co-parenting arrangements.
This article will cover:
- What is co-parenting and what is its importance?
- What’s a parenting plan and its benefits?
- Who is generally required to come up with a parenting plan?
- How can parents go about drafting a parenting plan?
- When might parents be required to attend a parenting coordination programme and/or a parenting programme?
- Is a parenting plan legally binding?
- Whether parties can choose to amend the agreed parenting plan or the parenting order made by the court
- What happens if a parent decides not to comply with the parenting order?
- Practical tips on co-parenting post-divorce
What is Co-Parenting and What is its Importance?
Co-parenting refers to the process whereby divorced parents work together to raise their children. This involves the sharing of responsibilities that are targeted at providing for the welfare of the child.
In the context of a divorce, co-parenting is important as the family structure is undergoing significant changes. This might be stressful for both you and your child. However, an effective co-parenting arrangement can provide your child with a familiar routine and a sense of stability.
It will also help you manage your emotions, cope with changes, and make the most out of an unpleasant transition. A parenting plan will be a significant step towards having an effective co-parenting arrangement.
What is a Parenting Plan and its Benefits?
A parenting plan refers to an arrangement that provides for the welfare of a dependent child to a marriage. The matters that could be covered under such an arrangement include:
- The custody, care and control, and access to the child;
- Financial provision for the child;
- The education of the child; and
- Any other parental responsibility for the child.
A good parenting plan will facilitate a smooth transition for both you and your child as the family structure rapidly changes. This is because you and your co-parent will be more aware of the distribution of responsibilities to be fulfilled.
A good parenting plan will also provide your child a familiar routine by allowing him to know where he will be living and who will be taking care of him. This allows for your child to have a greater sense of security.
Who is Generally Required to Come Up with a Parenting Plan?
As part of your divorce, parents with at least 1 dependent child are required to submit a parenting plan to the court for the purposes of co-parenting. This is unless you are filing for a simplified uncontested divorce, in which case a parenting plan does not need to be submitted.
A dependent child refers to a child who is:
- Under the age of 21 years; or
- Above the age of 21 years but who:
- Suffers from any mental or physical disability;
- Is or will be serving full-time national service; or
- Is undergoing studies or training for a trade, profession, or vocation, whether or not in gainful employment.
The parenting plan must cover the arrangements for each dependent child of the marriage.
How Can Parents Go About Drafting a Parenting Plan?
If both parents are able to agree on a suitable parenting plan, then the parent filing for divorce can draft an agreed parenting plan using Form 10.
If both parents are unable to agree, however, then you and your co-parent may request for the court to appoint a parenting coordinator. A parenting coordinator can mediate any conflicts that you may encounter (more below). If parties are still unable to agree, then the parent filing for divorce will need to file his or her own proposed parenting plan using Form 11.
The parenting plan must include details such as:
- Residence: Particulars of the place where your child will live, the names of other persons who live there and how they are related to your child;
- Care giver: Name of the person who will be looking after your child during the day, night, weekends, and school holidays;
- Education: Details of the school, or (if your child is employed) the place of employment, the nature of his work, and details of any training he might receive.
The parent defending against the divorce will be served with a copy of the proposed parenting plan. If the parent agrees to the arrangements stated in it, then he or she may file an agreement to accept the proposed parenting plan using Form 23.
However, if the parent disagrees with the parenting plan proposed by their co-parent, then he or she may need to file his or her own proposed parenting plan using Form 24.
Attending a Parenting Coordination Programme and/or a Parenting Programme
If required, the court may order you and your co-parent to participate in a parenting coordination programme. A parenting coordination programme is a family support programme designed to address or resolve any disagreements:
- About any parenting matter between you and your co-parent;
- Arising from any relationship issue or relationship problem between you and your co-parent; or
- Between either co-parent and your child.
The court can make the order for the parenting coordination programme on its own or upon your request. In deciding whether to make an order for your participation in a parenting coordination programme, the court will consider factors such as:
- Whether the participation by both parents in the parenting coordination programme is in your child’s best interests;
- Whether both parents will benefit from the assistance of a parenting coordinator; and
- Whether either or both parents can afford the parenting coordinator’s fees.
The parenting coordination programme will be carried out by a parenting coordinator appointed by the court. If you and your co-parent can agree on a specific parenting coordinator, then you may nominate him/her, but it is up to the court to make a final decision on the appointment. The parenting coordinator is required to act in the child’s best interest.
During the programme, the parenting coordinator will facilitate the resolution of any conflicts you might face with the other parent, and might also be able to assist both parents in reaching an agreement on a parenting plan.
More information on working with a parenting coordinator may be found here.
The court may require a report from the parenting coordinator on any parenting matter that was addressed or resolved during the programme, and may consider the report in any proceedings concerning the co-parents. These would include proceedings for orders on custody and care and control for your child, and variations of such orders.
Please note that parents seeking a divorce are also required to attend a Mandatory Parenting Programme if there is at least one child below 21 and there is no formal agreement on the divorce or ancillary matters, including the parenting arrangements for the children.
The programme will be a 2-hour session conducted by counsellors from Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs) and Strengthening Families Programme@Family Service Centres (FAM@FSCs). The purpose of the programme is to help you and your co-parent understand the financial implications of divorce, the impact on living arrangements, your child’s custody and access, and the importance of co-parenting and a parenting plan.
Read our other article for more information on the Mandatory Parenting Programme in Singapore.
Is a Parenting Plan Legally Binding?
The parenting plan that you agree on or propose is not legally binding. Only the orders made by the court on the parenting arrangements for your child are legally binding.
Such orders can be orders decided by the court following contested divorce proceedings, or consent orders that record agreements between parties following uncontested divorce proceedings. These orders may include orders for custody, education, and financial provision.
While the court will make any order that it thinks fit for the welfare of the child, it might consider the submitted parenting plans when doing so. The paramount consideration will still be the welfare of the child.
Can Parties Choose to Amend the Agreed Parenting Plan or the Parenting Order Made by the Court?
If you are the parent filing for divorce, you may amend the parenting plan without the court’s permission if it has not been served to your co-parent yet. If the parenting plan has already been served to your co-parent, then you will require the court’s permission to amend it.
If the court has already made parenting orders for your child, these may be varied (more below). The court may vary the relevant order if satisfied that the order had been made based on a misrepresentation or mistake of fact, or if there has since been a material change in the parties’ circumstances.
If the relevant order is a consent order regarding custody, the court may also vary it if doing so is reasonable and for the child’s welfare.
Amending the parenting order made by the court
If you are not satisfied with the parenting order made by the court right after it has been pronounced, you may appeal to have the order amended.
You may do so by filing a Notice of Appeal within 14 days from the date that the order is made. You must also serve the notice of appeal on your co-parent within 7 days after the notice is issued.
On the other hand, if the deadline for filing an appeal has passed, you will need to file an application to vary the parenting order.
You may read our article on varying custody orders in Singapore for reference on how to do so.
What Happens If a Parent Decides Not to Comply with the Parenting Order Made by the Court?
Failure by a parent to comply with the parenting order made by the court may amount to contempt of court. Proceedings might be commenced by the other parent to enforce the order.
The non-complying parent might be punished with a fine of up to $20,000, imprisonment for a term up to 1 year or both.
Practical Tips on Co-Parenting Post-Divorce
Some practical co-parenting tips you may consider include:
1. Ensuring regular and effective communicate between co-parents
Frequent and effective communication, such as making requests and listening, is necessary for successful co-parenting. This is important for you and your co-parent as you will need to make shared decisions and arrangements for your child. Adjustments to the arrangements might also need to be communicated.
Furthermore, if your child shares anything that might be of mutual concern, communicate it to your co-parent. This allows your co-parent to be aware of, and follow-up on the issues that your child may be experiencing, especially if they are living apart from him or her.
If communication ever gets unpleasant, it may help to remember that the focal point is the well-being of your child. Remember that it is not necessary to meet your co-parent (ex-spouse) in person for decisions to be made.
2. Follow the parenting orders
Adhering to the parenting orders can provide consistency for you and your child. This will help you manage your feelings and provide you and your child a sense of security and predictability.
In contrast, not following the orders can be a frequent source of conflict. This would make communication difficult, and your child might experience additional stress.
3. Avoid quarrelling around your child or asking your child to pick sides
Disputes might arise while co-parenting. While resolving disputes is optimal, the next best alternative is to avoid quarrelling around the children. Quarrelling, whether physically or verbally, may cause your children to feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. This might make it difficult for them to have a comfortable and honest relationship with you.
Asking your child to pick sides also places them in an awkward and possibly stressful position. This also means that you should avoid using your child as a messenger as it would place them in the centre of the conflict.
4. Help your child through stress
Apart from the parents, the children might also experience high levels of stress during the transition to co-parenting. It is important to place your child’s needs first, as far as possible.
You could talk to your child about how he/she is feeling during and after the period of transition to co-parenting. This would allow your child to identify his/her emotions, acknowledge them as valid, and learn how to manage them. You might also want to encourage your child to develop their interests and hobbies.
Healthy avenues for managing emotions and relieving stress will help them not only for the time being but also for their future.
Co-parenting may be stressful. You might encounter challenges that you have not experienced before. These challenges might include the relinquishment of control over your child, an irregular routine, or disagreements with your co-parent on decisions for your child.
While you could draft and file a parenting plan on your own, you may wish to consider engaging an experienced divorce lawyer to assist you in doing so. He/she will be in the best position to advise you through the entire process.
The divorce lawyer might also be able to identify additional considerations that are unique to your position, which the court might consider when making parenting orders for your child. This would certainly ease your transition through divorce and into co-parenting.
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