Last updated 1 August 2016
Parents are strongly encouraged to enter into parenting plans in relation to the arrangements for their children. Parenting plans are informal agreements and are to be in writing, made between the parents of a child, signed by the parties and dated. An agreement is not a parenting plan under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (Family Law Act), unless it is made free from any threat, duress or coercion (s 63C(1A) Family Law Act). Section 63C(2) of the Family Law Act specifies that a parenting plan may deal with one or more of the following:
- the person or persons with whom a child is to live
- the time a child is to spend with another person or other persons
- the allocation of parental responsibility for a child (s 63C(2B)), specifically with the allocation of responsibility for making decisions about major long-term issues affecting the child
- the form of consultation the persons are to have with one another and about decisions to be made about the exercise of that responsibility, if two or more persons are to share parental responsibility for a child
- the communication the child is to have with another person or other persons
- the maintenance of the child
- the process to be used for resolving disputes about the terms and operation of the plan
- the process to be used for changing the plan to take account of the changing needs or circumstances of the child or parties to the plan
- any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.
The person or persons referred to in s 63C(2) of the Family Law Act may be either a parent of the child or a person other than a parent of the child (including a grandparent or other relative of the child) (s 63C(2A) Family Law Act). Parenting plans are not court orders and therefore cannot be the subject of enforcement or contravention applications.
If parents want to ensure that the terms of the parenting plan are enforceable by the courts, they can seek a court order by consent (by filing an Application for Consent Orders form the Family Court of Australia). The Family Court of Australia publishes detailed information that can assist with the application. A reduction in the filing fee may apply depending upon the applicant’s financial circumstances.
The court’s regard
When making a parenting order, the court must have regard to the terms of the most recent parenting plan entered into by the child’s parents if it is in the child’s best interests (s 65DAB Family Law Act).
Effect of parenting plans on orders
Parenting orders are taken to be subject to later parenting plans entered into by persons to whom the orders apply (s 64D Family Law Act). It is possible, in exceptional circumstances, for the court to include in an order a provision that s 64D does not apply to the order (ss 64D(2)–(3) Family Law Act).