What is the difference between a Parenting Plan and Parenting Consent Orders?

Child Custody

When parents separate, arrangements need to be made for the care of any children of the relationship. At this time, it’s helpful to understand the differences between Parenting Plans vs Parenting Consent Orders.

Any agreement includes arrangements about where the children will live and when they will spend time with each parent. Parenting arrangements are commonly referred to as ‘child custody arrangements’ despite that term not being relevant under Australian law.

In cases where parents agree about suitable arrangements for their children, it is prudent to document or formalise those arrangements.

To achieve this, parents have the option of obtaining parenting Consent Orders, which are approved by the Family Law Courts, or entering into a less formal Parenting Plan.

It is important to understand the difference between Parenting Plans vs Parenting Consent Orders in order to determine which is the most suitable way of formalising parenting arrangements in each individual case.

Parenting Plans

In accordance with section 63C of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), a Parenting Plan is a written agreement made between the parents of a child that is signed by each party and dated.

Parenting plans may deal with the following issues:

  • Which parents the child lives with (if not equally);
  • The time a child should spend with the other parent, including arrangements during school terms, weekends, school holidays and special occasions (such as Christmas and birthdays);
  • Maintenance of a child;
  • Whether the child’s parents should share ‘parental responsibility’ for the child, or whether just one parent should have the responsibility to decide certain issues. Parental responsibility is the decision-making capacity for the child (i.e. who makes decisions about major long-term issues such as schooling, religious instruction and major medical decisions); and
  • How any disputes about parenting arrangements or the parenting plan should be dealt with (such as an agreement that parents will meet to discuss disagreements or attend mediation).

Parenting Plans can be provided to a child’s school, care, or activity provider so there is certainty about the arrangements in place for a child.

Importantly, Parenting Plans are not enforceable in Court. This means that if one parent does not comply with the terms of a Parenting Plan, the other parent has limited recourse to enforce the terms of the Parenting Plan.

Despite being a less formal way of documenting parenting arrangements, Parenting Plans are suitable in many cases, such as where a child is very young and the arrangements are likely to change in future, in line with a child’s developmental needs, and where parents have a sound co-parenting relationship and are likely to comply with the terms of the Parenting Plan.

Consent Orders

In many cases, it is more suitable, or often necessary, that parenting arrangements are formalised by way of Court Orders.

When parents are in agreement about parenting arrangements but want the protection and certainty of a binding and enforceable Court Order, parents have the option to ask the Court to make Parenting Consent Orders.

When parties do this, there is no need to go to Court, but it is necessary to make a detailed application to the Court justifying why the proposed parenting arrangements are suitable.

We routinely assist clients in applying for Parenting Consent Orders, which offer protection and certainty in relation to agreed parenting arrangements.

What happens when you cannot agree to Parenting Arrangements?

It is not uncommon that separated parents simply cannot agree on what is best for their children after separation. Further, there are sometimes significant risk factors that make one parent’s parenting proposal unworkable.

When parents can’t agree about parenting or child custody arrangements, it may become necessary to issue an application to the Court seeking parenting orders. However, there are other options including mediation and negotiation with the assistance of experienced family and divorce lawyers.

We regularly represent clients in parenting disputes and, wherever possible and appropriate, we encourage and assist clients to resolve their disputes via mediation, negotiation or other methods of alternative dispute resolution.

In cases where Court is necessary, we have extensive experience in representing parents and other interested parties, such as grandparents, in contested parenting disputes. Often these cases involve risk factors and other special circumstances.

If you would like to speak to an experienced family lawyer regarding a parenting issue, please contact us.