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What is a “Parenting Order” and how does it differ from a “Parenting Plan”?

Parents Australian law encourages parents to come to a parenting arrangement or parenting plan on their own.  Many parents, however, are unable to come to an agreement and end up turning to the courts to resolve their parenting dispute.  The court may make a “parenting order”, telling the parents exactly what the parenting arrangement must be.   These may be orders which the parents consent or agree to (consent orders) or the order may be imposed on the parents following a trial or court hearing.  Finally, there are cases that combine parenting orders by consent along with a parenting plan created by the parents.

The primary question the court will ask is what is in the best interests of the children.  The court will look at many factors to decide what is in the child’s best interests, but the two main considerations are the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents against the need to protect the child and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm as a result of abuse, neglect or family violence.

Other factors the court might consider:  the child’s opinion, his or her relationship with each parent and other relatives, such as grandparents; the particular parent’s role in raising the child, each parent’s financial support, and the lifestyle of the parents.   But the law also allows a judge to consider any other fact or circumstance that the court thinks is relevant”, giving the court a good deal of discretion when giving a parenting order.

Can a Parenting Plan be Changed or Modified?

A good parenting plan should discuss the many possible surprises and changes that might occur  a parent relocates, a medical emergency, financial circumstances change but no plan can foresee every possible need for modification or adjustment.   Section 63(D) of the Family Law Act, 1975 allows a parenting plan to be “varied or revoked by agreement in writing” between the two parties.

If a parenting plan was registered with the court, and then one or both sides wish to modify it, court papers must be filed.  Contact an experienced family lawyer to find out how to modify a current parenting plan.

What is a Parenting Plan?

Australian law holds both parents responsible for their children.  Even when parents separate or divorce, both parents are obligated to take care of their children financially, providing them with all of their basic needs, education and health.  A parenting plan is an agreement between the parents of the children, laying out each person’s responsibilities, obligations and commitments.

Division 4 of the Family Law Act, 1975 details what may be included in a parenting plan, but the list is not exhaustive.  Generally, a parenting plan should include the division of responsibility for the children, whether or not there are third parties involved, maintenance for the children, how decisions are made, the forms of communication between the parents and between the children and the parents (when they are with the other parent), and ideally, how future disputes will be settled.  A primary goal of the plan is to lay out as many of the possible issues involved in parenting in order to allow for future changes and avoid going to court.  At all times, the children’s best interests should be kept in mind.

A good parenting plan is very detailed.  It lays out an annual schedule of visits, including who picks up and drops off the children.  A parenting plan also discusses how big decisions, like where the children will go to school or what religion they will be raised in will be made and by whom.  It should also give space for each parent to make certain decisions independently when the children are with them, ie what do they kids eat for breakfast or how much t.v. do they get to watch.

In order for the parenting plan to be legal, it must be: (1) written; (2) made between the parents; (3) signed by both parents; (4) dated and; (5) deals with the issues listed above and in section 63(C)(2) (link to this section).   A parenting plan is not legally binding, however, unless it is registered in court.