Lawyers can all tell stories about clients who have been convinced to “just sign” a document, without wasting money on legal advice, and then later when everything goes wrong and they seek legal advice inevitably the lawyer says, you should have come and seen me before you signed this document.

An example that we encounter a bit at Coode & Corry Solicitors is parenting plans in family law custody matters.   Parents tend to give parenting plans more weight than they actually have. A parenting plan is not an enforceable parenting order and the Court can take no steps to enforce it.  A parenting plan is great as long as both parties agree to be bound by it. As soon as one party will not comply with it the document is fairly weak.  If, instead of signing a Parenting Plan the parties obtain Court Orders, then the aggrieved parent could now commence Contravention Proceedings at the Family Court, a much quicker and more cost effective process.  Furthermore, having agreed to binding Court Orders, we find that most parents realise they are enforceable and feel under more pressure to comply with the Orders.

Another problem that parenting plans can cause is, if a parenting plan is signed after Court Orders, then a parent cannot commence contravention proceedings for failure to comply with the Court Orders if the parenting plan has changed the arrangements. A parent also cannot commence contravention proceedings for failure to comply with the parenting plan as the parenting plan is not an enforceable document. As an example, say one parent convinces the other parent to sign a parenting plan so that instead of having the children on the first weekend of the fortnight, they have them on the second weekend of the fortnight.  The first parent then refuses to make the children available on either weekend.  The second parent cannot commence Contravention proceedings in relation to the Court Orders stating they should have the children on the first weekend, because there is a parenting plan saying something else. The second parent cannot commence contravention proceedings saying they want the children on the second weekend, because the parenting plan is not an enforceable document.  The parenting plan has weakened the Court Orders but has not produced a further enforceable document.

If this parent had spoken with a solicitor before signing the parenting plan, the solicitor would have included a term in the Plan so that, if the first parent didn’t comply with the parenting plan, the second parent has some recourse to the Courts.  The legal costs involved in trying to sort out the situation would be a lot more than the legal costs originally saved by having signed a Parenting plan without getting legal advice.

Please, speak with a lawyer before signing documents, more often than not you will save yourself arguments, and time and money, in the long run.