Family Law – Parenting Arrangements

What are Parenting Arrangements?

When parents separate, it is natural and normal to worry about what is going to best for your children. It might be a relief to know the Family Law Act requires the arrangements that are put in place for the care of children when their parents separate to be safe, practical and in their best interests.

In fact, the general overview of the Family Law Act is that it is considered to be best for children to have an ongoing relationship with both of their parents, unless it isn’t safe for them. There is also a legal presumption of equal and shared responsibilities for the decisions relating to the long-term care of children.

Parenting arrangements are the practical parts of taking care of children by separated parents. This can include how decisions are going to be made (called parental responsibility), with whom children are going to live, how children are to spend time and communicate with a parent they aren’t living with, and any other issues particular for each family (which might include schooling, travel or medical treatment).

There are informal and formal options available for parenting arrangements.

What are the usual things that parents work out?

The common things to think about for your children are likely to be things like:

  • What is going to be their usual week to week, fortnight to fortnight routine

  • What is going to happen on school holidays
  • What is going to happen on special days (birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Christmas)
  • How the children are going to get from one parent’s care to another (changeover arrangements)
  • How are you as parents going to communicate with each other about the children
  • Are there any other specific things to be arranged for your children.

What paperwork do we need to do for an informal agreement?

It isn’t mandatory to do any paperwork about your parenting arrangements, as long as you and your former partner agree on what is happening with the children.

If you would prefer to see your agreement put in writing, then an informal agreement is called a Parenting Plan. There is no particular form or style requirements for a Parenting Plan, and there are no legal penalties that apply if either one of you don’t follow that Plan.

What paperwork do we need to do for a formal agreement?

If you prefer or require the formality and enforceability of a Court Order and you have an agreement with your former partner, then you can apply to the Court using a paperwork only application for Consent Orders. That begins by preparing an Application for Consent Orders and preparing your draft Orders.

If you do not have an agreement, then you will need to move through the formal Dispute Resolution processes required by the Family Law Act.

What if we can’t agree on our parenting arrangements?

The Family Law Act requires all families to try and come to agreements about their parenting arrangements, provided it is safe for them to do so. If you haven’t been able to do that directly between yourselves, then the next step is to try mediation, which is also referred to as Family Dispute Resolution. The Federal Government has funded Family Relationship Centres around Australia to provide mediation services to families. There are also private Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners who can offer mediation as well.

You cannot apply to the Court for parenting orders until you have a certificate from a mediator (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner) confirming that you have attempted mediation.

If you still haven’t been able to reach an agreement after trying mediation, only then you can apply to the Court for parenting orders.

When you apply to the Court, the Judge has authority to make the Orders they determine are in the best interests of the children, and they don’t have to choose between your proposal and the proposal of the other parent.