STAGE 1: PRE-ACTION PROCEDURES
Many separated parents make arrangements regarding their children between themselves without the intervention of a third party. However there are situations where finalising the parenting arrangements in a formal manner (parenting plan or court order) will be beneficial to the parties involved.
In situations where parents are considering applying to the court for parenting orders there are steps (pre-action procedures) required before a parent can start court proceedings. The main steps involved are:
Step 1: Comply with the requirements of Compulsory Family Dispute Resolution
The parties are required to participate in compulsory family dispute resolution (“FDR”).
There are a few exceptions to this requirement including cases:
Involving allegations of child abuse or risk of abuse
Involving allegations of family violence or risk of family violence
Where there is a genuinely intractable dispute (for example, where one person refuses to negotiate) or
Where a person would be unduly prejudiced or adversely affected if another person became aware of the intention to start a case (for example, where there is a genuine concern that the other person will attempt to defeat your application if he/she has this prior knowledge).
Step 2: Enter into a parenting plan or apply for consent orders
If an agreement is reached, you and the other party (usually your former partner) may enter into a parenting plan or apply to court for consent orders.
If the family dispute resolution process (see step 1) was unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, bear in mind that there are other dispute resolution processes such as family counseling, negotiation, and conciliation which you and the other potential parties could participate in, to assist all parties resolve the dispute.
You can participate in many of these dispute resolution processes at any time and in all of them, before commencing court action.
Step 3: If your case is not resolved give written notice of issues and future intentions
A person considering applying to a court must give the other person/s written notice of the intention to start a court case (called a notice of claim), setting out:
The issues in dispute
The orders to be sought if a case is started
A genuine offer to resolve the issues, and
A nominated time (at least 14 days after the date of the letter) within which the other person must reply.
Step 4: Reply to the notice of claim
If you receive this notice of claim, you must, within the nominated time, reply to it in writing stating whether the offer is accepted. If an agreement is reached, refer back to Step 2.
If you do not accept the offer, you must set out in a letter:
The issues in dispute
The orders you will seek if a case is started
A genuine counter offer to resolve the issues, and
A nominated time (at least 14 days after the date of the letter) within which the initiating claimant must reply.
If you do not respond, the initiating party’s obligation to follow the pre-action procedure ends.
Where an agreement is not reached after reasonable attempts to resolve it by correspondence, other appropriate action may be taken to resolve the dispute, including filing an application in a court.
STAGE 2: COMMENCING COURT PROCEEDINGS
Once attempts to finalise parenting arrangement without proceeding to court have been exhausted, the main steps to commencing court proceedings are: