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What is the difference between parenting plans and consent orders?

 What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a written and signed voluntary agreement between parties. A parenting plan under the Family Law Act 1975 must deal with matters relating to aspects of the care, welfare and development of a child, including:

  • Who the child will live with;
  • Time spent with the other parent;
  • How parents are to consult on major long-term issues relating to the child;
  • The practical considerations of a child’s day-to-day life.

Parenting plans are flexible as they can be changed at any time upon written agreement by both parties.

The limitation of parenting plans is that they are not legally binding. If one party does not uphold their side of the agreement, there are no immediate mechanisms to have the agreement enforced by the court.

If court proceedings are later initiated, the court must consider the terms of a parenting plan. They are however, not bound by the terms and it is open to the court to make Orders in accordance with the best interests of the child.

Parenting plans may be preferable for those seeking to spend the least amount of money and avoid entering the court system, while still maintaining control over their parenting arrangement.

Should I enter into a parenting plan?

Separated parents may consider entering into a parenting plan where:

  • They are able to freely communicate about issues pertaining to the child;
  • They are wanting structure in their co-parenting arrangement.

Should I make an Application for Consent Orders?

When parties are able to reach an agreement they can file an Application for Consent Orders with the court. The proposed orders will be considered by a Registrar and if deemed in the best interests of the child, will become Court Orders.

Court Orders are legally enforceable. If a court finds a parent has contravened an Order without reasonable excuse, there are certain penalties that may be applied. These penalties range from making Orders to compensate time lost with a child to imposing a prison sentence.

Consent Orders may be preferable where there is a possibility that a party may stray from the agreement. Orders made by consent both serve as a deterrent for disobeying the agreement as well as providing a procedure for enforcement or penalisation if it is contravened.

Note: A filing fee of $160 applies when filing an Application for Consent Orders with the court.

Which option is best for me?

It always depends on the individual parties and their personal circumstances as to which option is the right option.

It is always preferable that parties attempt to come to an agreement between themselves when possible. If this is successful, parties should consider whether there is a need to have the agreement made enforceable by the court.

If you wish to seek further advice on drafting parenting orders or applying for consent Orders, please don’t hesitate to contact myself or the Turnbull Hill team on 1800 994 279 or via email.


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