Parenting Plans and Consent Orders in Australia

Parenting can be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of one’s life and everyone wants what is best for their children. When navigating a separation or divorce that includes children, ensuring the well-being of children becomes a top priority. Parenting plans and parenting consent orders can provide a structured framework for co-parenting in the best interests of the children. In this article, we explore the significance of parenting plans and parenting consent orders in Australia, what they are, how to get them, and how they can help parents navigate this challenging phase of their lives.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a voluntary, written agreement between separated or divorced parents that outlines the arrangements for the care, welfare, and development of their children.

It is often an informal document written up as part of negotiations or mediation following the breakdown of a relationship. They can cover who the children live with, visitation schedules, how the non-live with parent will communicate with the children, financial matters relating to the children, and how the parties intend to resolve any disputes. You cannot make any binding child support arrangements through a parenting plan however the time each parent spends with the children will be relevant to any Centrelink or child support payments.

Key points to understand about parenting plans include:

  • Voluntary agreement: Parenting plans are entirely voluntary, relying on the cooperation and mutual consent of both parents. It is a flexible and customizable arrangement.
  • Parenting plans are not legally binding: While they can be used as evidence in court if a dispute arises, Courts will typically consider the most recent parenting plan when making decisions about parenting arrangements but will not necessarily bind the parties to them if they don’t feel the arrangement is in the children’s best interests.
  • Parenting Plans are informal: These plans do not require court approval however it is advisable to seek legal guidance when creating one. Legal advice can assist with making sure that you agree on the basics that are likely to arise long-term and avoid disputes in the future.
  • They allow for flexibility: Parenting plans allow for flexibility in determining parenting arrangements, such as living arrangements, visitation schedules, and parental responsibilities.

What is a Consent Order?

Parenting consent orders are legally binding agreements that must be approved by the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court (the Court). They can cover who the children live with, visitation schedules, how the non-live with parent will communicate with the children, and how the parties intend to resolve any disputes.

While property and financial orders are separate matters, you can apply to the Court for financial orders at the same time. However, the court will not make orders in relation to child support and for binding arrangements, a separate Binding or Limited Child Support Agreement will need to be created and submitted to the Child Support Agency (CSA).

Key points to understand about parenting consent orders include:

  • Court Involvement: To obtain parenting consent orders, parents must apply to the court. The court will assess the proposed arrangements to ensure they are in the best interests of the child.
  • Legally Binding: Once the court approves the consent orders, they become legally binding and enforceable. Violating these orders can result in penalties, including fines or, in severe cases, imprisonment.
  • Certainty and Stability: Parenting consent orders provide a structured framework for parenting arrangements, offering a higher degree of certainty and stability compared to parenting plans.
  • Modification: While you can agree to change the arrangement between yourselves, where there is disagreement about how they should be changed then it will be necessary to apply to the Court to ask a Judge to vary the orders. In the event of a dispute about changing the arrangements in the orders, a Court will only allow you to reopen parenting orders if there has been a significant change in circumstances and will otherwise expect you to comply with the orders already made.

Process for a Consent Order Application

Obtaining parenting consent orders involves a structured legal process:

  • Seek Legal Advice: Start by seeking legal advice from a family lawyer to understand your rights, responsibilities, and the legal implications of parenting consent orders. You will likely require assistance to draft the orders that you are asking the court to make.
  • Negotiate with the Other Parent: Try to reach an agreement with the other parent regarding parenting arrangements. Open and honest communication is key and there are generally some free options for engaging in mediation if needed.
  • Draft Consent Orders: With legal guidance, draft the consent orders detailing the agreed-upon parenting arrangements. The document should be clear, comprehensive, and in the best interests of the child.
  • Prepare and File the Application: In addition to drafting orders, you also have to prepare an Application for Consent Orders form. This form includes details about the current arrangement, why it is in the best interests of the child, and background information about the relationship between the parents.
  • Court Assessment: The court will review the proposed consent orders to ensure they align with the child’s best interests. Where both parties agree, the Court may make orders ‘on the papers’ and without the need to speak to the parties further. If necessary, the court may request further information or schedule a hearing to find out why the orders are in the children’s best interest.
  • Court Approval: If the court is satisfied that the orders are in the child’s best interests, they will approve the consent orders, making them legally binding.
  • Enforcement: Once approved, the parenting consent orders are enforceable, and both parents are legally obligated to adhere to them. Violating the orders can result in legal consequences.

Choosing a Parenting Plan or Consent Order

Choosing between a parenting plan and parenting consent orders depends on your unique situation and both have advantages and disadvantages. If the best interests of the child are put first, either document can assist to establish a structured, child-focused approach and hopefully reduce any future conflict. As experienced family lawyers, Advocate Lawyers can give you advice based on your circumstances so that you can make an informed decision about what is in the best interests of your family. If you are interested in a parenting plan or parenting consent orders or just need assistance drafting them, contact Advocate Lawyers today to discuss your circumstances.

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