Parenting Plan vs Parenting Order

Parenting Plan vs Parenting Order

Published on 6 August 2021
Last updated on 17 March 2023

Ending a relationship can be challenging especially when you have kids. You never want to hurt your kids only because of the change of your relationship status. What you can do is to properly arrange parenting issues with your ex-partner depends on whether you can reach an agreement.

If you can agree on the arrangements for your children

Then you should consider arranging a parenting plan. This method is much cheaper and saves you time. It is drawn up with a share commitment to your children and their future. A written parenting plan, agreed upon by both parents, will provide certainty on the arrangements for the care of your children.

If you cannot agree on the arrangements for your children

Then you should consider a parenting order. This is an order made by the court. The court must consider what is in the best interest of the child and make an order accordingly. You should be warned this process can be expensive and take time. However, a parenting order is legally enforceable and breaching it does have legal consequences.


1. Parenting Plan

1.1 What is a parenting plan?

It is a written agreement between parents. It clarifies practical issues related to parental responsibility.


1.2 What should we consider when making parenting plan?

  • What decisions need both parents?
  • How do you share important information, such as, school reports, healthcare?
  • Should you have regular meetings to discuss parenting issues?
  • At what times is it ok to call the other parent and when is it not?
  • How will you resolve disagreements?
  • What do you do about emergencies?
  • Who will look after the children if one or both of you passes away?


1.3 What should we include in the parenting plan?

Your plan will need to set out details related to practical decisions about children in such areas such as:

  • parenting style
  • living arrangements
  • finances
  • religion
  • education
  • health care
  • emotional well-being


1.4 What is not covered in a parenting plan?

A parenting plan does not deal with how you want to divide up your personal property, homes and assets.

You should do property settlement (link to property page) separately.


1.5 How do I make my parenting plan legally enforceable?

If both parents are happy with the parenting plan, to make it legally enforceable you will need to apply to the Court for a Consent Order. The details of your parenting plan are then put into a Parenting Order, which makes the details of your parenting plan legally enforceable.


1.6 What if we can’t reach an agreement on parenting plan?

First, you must consider attending family mediation and dispute resolution. It is a special type of mediation for helping families to come to their own agreements. This is cheaper and faster than going to the courts.

If you still cannot agree on arrangements for children, you may need to go to the Family Court for a Parenting Order. The Court must always consider:

  • the best interests of the child
  • how both parents have complied with their obligations in relation to the child


Parenting Plan vs Parenting Order


2. Parenting order

2.1 What is a parenting order?

It is a set of orders made by a court about parenting arrangements for a child.

A court can make a parenting order based on consent orders or after a court hearing or trial. When a parenting order is made, each parent or person named in the order must follow it.


2.2 Can I apply for parenting orders?

Before you apply, you are required to attend a Family Dispute Resolution Conference.

You must make a genuine effort to resolve the matter during the family dispute resolution process.

You must obtain a certificate from a registered family dispute resolution practitioner before making an application with the Court.


2.3 What is the difference between parenting orders and parenting plan?

The biggest difference between a Parenting Plan and Parenting Orders is that Parenting Orders are legally binding and enforceable, but a Parenting Plan is not.

A Parenting Plan shows an agreement of an intention between parents about practical decision related to the children. Whereas a parenting order is an order made by the court.


2.4 What does the court consider when making parenting orders?

The court must consider what’s in the children’s best interests.

The court will assume it’s in the children’s best interests for parents to have equal shared parental responsibility, unless there has been evidence of child abuse or family violence.

You should know that equal shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal parenting time.


2.5 What does a parenting order contain?

  • who the child will live with
  • how much time the child will spend with each parent and with other people, such as grandparents
  • the division of parental responsibility
  • how the child will communicate with a parent they do not live with, or other people
  • any other aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child.


2.6 Can parenting orders be changed?

It is important to note that parties can always change their parenting orders by agreement.

If you or your ex-spouse want to change the parenting orders and no agreement can be reached, an application must be made to the Court to change the parenting orders. You must demonstrate to the Court there has been a “significant change in circumstances” from the time parenting orders were made.


2.7 What happens if a parenting order is breached?

If a court finds that you have failed to comply with a parenting order without reasonable excuse, it may impose a penalty. Depending on the situation and seriousness of the breach, a court may:

  • order you to attend a post separation parenting program
  • compensate for time lost with a child as a result of the contravention
  • require you to enter into a bond
  • order you to pay all or some of the legal costs of the other party or parties
  • order you to pay compensation for reasonable expenses lost as a result of the contravention
  • require you to participate in community service
  • order you to pay a fine
  • order you to a sentence of imprisonment.


3. Summary

You can solve the parenting issues with your ex-partner by either a parenting plan or a parenting order. What matters the most for both the parents and the Court is to ensure the well-being of the children.

If you want to learn more about your choices in parenting arrangements, or you want to engage a lawyer to draft a parenting plan, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here for your best interests!

Disclaimer: Ascent Lawyers owns all copyright in the text. This article is of a general nature and should not be regarded as legal advice or relied on for assistance in any particular circumstance or emergency situation. To obtain legal advice in relation to your own circumstances, please contact us for consultation.

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