Latest Family Law Insights

Consent Orders vs Parenting Plans

First published August 18, 2020, and updated December 4th 2021

What is a parenting plan?

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 written document will offer more security than verbal agreements do because changes must go through both parties instead of just taking someone’s word at face value. Its important to make sure any documents won’t need much updating down the line (unless circumstances change).

A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement like an order issued by the court. It can’t force either parent to act in any way, but it’s often used as guidance for both parents until their child reaches adulthood or when they become self-sufficient.

What is a parenting order?

Parties to a parenting plan can ask the court to make a ‘parenting order by consent’ 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.

A parenting order by consent will have the same legally binding effect as if it was made through court proceedings. You can apply to the Federal Circuit of the Family Court of Australia and request approval from judges who may grant parenting orders by consent accordingly if they see fit. The written agreement would be approved by lodging an application that could cover anything related to parenting arrangements.

In some circumstances, grandparents and other relatives can make parenting orders about children who are related to them. If you aren’t a parent or relative of that child/ren then it is important for you to get legal advice before making any decisions regarding their wellbeing!

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, whereas a parenting order by consent provides legally binding terms that the other parent has to abide by.

What is the difference between a parenting plan and a consent order?

parenting plan

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 a parenting order by consent. 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 in the most extreme of cases. Parenting orders by consent may encourage a party to comply with the arrangement and provide a mechanism to enforce the arrangement if they are not complying with the arrangement.

If you’re thinking about filing for a parenting order or just want to make some changes to an existing one, you must first attempt family dispute resolution. Suppose you and your ex-partner cannot agree. In that case, you will need to apply for a 60I Certificate which is a requirement under the Family Law Act 1975 that divorcing couples wanting to apply for an order of parenting need first indicate they have attempted mediation or had regular discussions with each other.

What Are The Benefits of Parenting Order by Consent?

Family law Consent Orders offer many benefits, such as;

  • Ease of mind for all parties involved in the agreement
  • Increased stability and security when it comes to child custody agreements
  • Consent orders are made final. Unless the parties agree otherwise, it’s exceptionally difficult to vary an order once finalised
  • In order to enforce an order, the court can sign documents on behalf of a party who refuses. If more substantial action is required for compliance with this decision then you have two options: either ask them in writing or write to their legal office as soon as possible! If you are having difficulty in compliance please speak with your lawyer

How Do I Know if a Parenting Plan Will be Approved by the Court?

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.

The process for obtaining family law Consent Orders is a straightforward, cost-effective way to resolve disputes. It will take you less time and money than other methods because it’s administrative instead of judicial in nature, with no court appearances required!

The Importance of Mutual Respect in Child Custody Arrangements

It is important to include a provision requiring respect in parenting plans so that both parents can remain committed and focused on the best interests of the child. When one parent speaks poorly about or denigrates the other it not only affects the child but also negatively impacts how the child interacts with both parents.

Respecting the other parent’s time and being on time for drop-offs and pickups is important to maintain mutual respect. Always give the other parent advance notice of your plans so they have an opportunity to exercise their parental rights if necessary.

The mutual respect should extend from respecting each others’ schedules, giving at least 24 hours notice before cancelling or changing appointments/dates whether it involves being a stay-at-home dad, working full-time or planning vacations with the children.

However, this doesn’t mean always being available all day every single second without fail either. The parenting plan has specific agreements documented that both parents need to abide by as amicably as possible.

Top 10 Things to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan!

  1. The child’s age and whether the agreement is age-appropriate
  2. Who would be the best person/persons available to provide their daily care?
  3. Does the child have special medical or schooling needs?
  4. The educational needs of the child/children
  5. Transportation, accommodation and the costs involved
  6. Is the child Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders and the cultural needs?
  7. The cultural needs of the child/children if they are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  8. The views of the child
  9. The child’s safety
  10. Co-Parenting Communication

What’s The Next Step?

In the end, no two situations are alike. That’s why Sage Family Lawyers offer a range of options to fit your needs; from parents who want greater flexibility at lower cost with fewer restrictions to consent orders which provide enforceability.

A proper parenting plan will ensure that you and your child’s future is secure. This decision should not be taken lightly, as it can have serious ramifications for you and the children involved in the near or distant future.

If you would like more information about parenting arrangements, assistance to help you reach an agreement or you would like to discuss your options, please contact one of our friendly team members on 03 9070 9839 or email:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can consent orders be overturned?

The Order may be challenged or overturned on limited grounds, like consent orders that end financial relationships between parties.

What is a good co-parenting schedule?

It is important to have a co-parenting plan in place when developing custody schedules for your child. Although there are many factors you need to take into consideration, experts recommend using the 50/50 parenting schedule because it allows them time with both parents on an equal basis and fosters bonding between all members involved.

What happens if a parenting order is breached?

If the court finds that you breached an order without a reasonable excuse, it can order for your participation in a parenting program run by approved counselling services. The aim is to help people focus on their children’s needs and sort out any conflict.

How parenting orders may be varied?

When there are existing court orders about the care of children, it may only be varied by a Court after an application has been made. This is irrespective of whether they were made by consent or following a formal hearing.

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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.