Parenting Plans and Orders

Parenting arrangements

Arrangements in relation to children can be formalised by a:

  • Parenting plan; or
  • Court order.

Parenting plans

Under the Family Law Act, parents are encouraged to reach an informal agreement between themselves about matters concerning their children by entering into a parenting plan.

There are advantages in having a parenting plan (compared to a parenting order) which include to encourage the parents:

  • To agree about matters concerning their child
  • To take responsibility for their parenting arrangements and for resolving parental conflict
  • To use the legal system as a last resort rather than a first resort
  • To minimise the possibility of present and future conflict by using or reaching an agreement

The main disadvantage with a parenting plan (compared to a court order) is that it cannot be enforced. Parents who seek enforceable arrangements require court orders. These can be obtained by consent or through court proceedings.

Requirements for a parenting plan

A parenting plan is an agreement that:

  • Is in writing
  • Is or was made between the parents of a child
  • Is signed by the parents of the child
  • Is dated
  • Deals with a matter or matters mentioned in the Family Law Act including:
    1. The person or persons with whom a child is to live
    2. The time a child is to spend with another person or other persons
    3. The allocation of parental responsibility for a child
    4. If 2 or more persons are to share parental responsibility for a child—the form of consultations those persons are to have with one another about decisions to be made in the exercise of that responsibility
    5. The communication a child is to have with another person or other persons
    6. Maintenance of a child
    7. The process to be used for resolving disputes about the terms or operation of the plan
    8. The process to be used for changing the plan to take account of the changing needs or circumstances of the child or the parties to the plan
    9. Any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

Parenting orders

A parenting order is a court order made under the Family Law Act and can deal with any of the above matters applicable to a parenting plan.

Although parenting plans are encouraged by the Family Law Act, in practice family law solicitors generally have a preference for parenting orders for 2 main reasons:

  • Parenting orders can be enforced whereas parenting plans are not enforceable
  • If parents are at a stage where they can reach agreement and have a parenting plan then it is often beneficial to put those parenting arrangements into consent orders while there is agreement to avoid future disputes.

Parenting orders subject to later parenting plans

A parenting order in relation to a child can be changed by a subsequent parenting plan unless the parenting order specifically provides that the parenting order can only be varied by a subsequent order of the court and not by a parenting plan.

The effect of this is that parents should be careful to not override a parenting order by entering into a parenting plan without knowing the effects on the court order. By doing so parents may find themselves unable to enforce the old parenting order if it is inconsistent with the subsequent parenting plan.