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My former partner and I have agreed on parenting arrangements for our children. Should we enter into a parenting plan or have orders made by the court? What is the difference?

A parenting plan is an agreement that sets out parenting arrangements for children. A parenting plan covers the day-to-day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of a child’s daily life, as well as how parents will agree and consult on important, long-term issues, such as which school children will attend.

Any written document which is signed, dated and deals with parenting arrangements for children can be a parenting plan. It must be made free from any threat, duress or coercion. Many parents have a mediator or lawyer help them with their parenting plan.

A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement. It is different from a parenting order made by a court.

Parties to a parenting plan can ask the court to make ‘consent orders’ in the terms of that plan. The court will only make a consent order if it is satisfied that the terms of the plan are in the best interests of the child. Once made, consent orders are legally binding. They have the same effect as any other order made by a court.

If parents go to court at any time, the court will consider the terms of the most recent parenting plan when making a parenting order in relation to a child. The court will consider if it is in the best interests of the child to make court orders similar to the parenting plan.

If your former partner does not follow the parenting plan, there is no immediate mechanism by which you can make them comply with the arrangement.

Parenting plans can be less expensive to draft and are good if you want to avoid the court system, while still having your agreements about parenting formalised. Parenting plans work in circumstances where you and your partner can communicate effectively and work collaboratively together. You should trust that your partner will comply with the parenting plan.

If you are worried that your partner may not comply with a parenting plan, then you will need court orders. A court order is legally enforceable. If a court determines that a court order has not been followed, then penalties can apply.  The penalties range from compensating one parent for lost time with a child to a prison sentence. Consent orders may encourage a party to comply with the arrangement and provide a mechanism to enforce the arrangement if they are not.

You do not have to go to court to get orders made by consent.

Whether a parenting plan or consent orders are right for you will depend on your personal circumstances.

If you would like more information about parenting arrangements, assistance to help you reach agreement or you would like to discuss your options, please contact one of our team members on 03 9070 9839 or info@sagefamilylawyers.com.au


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Specialising in family law since 2016, Elisa has a long-standing background in mediation and worked as a family dispute resolution practitioner for many years.