Family Court of Western Australia

Parenting Orders

Following separation, if you can agree on parenting arrangements, you can create a parenting plan or apply for consent orders. Otherwise, you can apply for the court to make parenting orders

This page is about parenting orders which make future arrangements in the best interests of the child, but there are also child-related orders for relocating children or recovering children if they have not been returned to your care.

What is a parenting order?

A parenting order is the result of the Court deciding how parental responsibilities will be allocated in the best interests of the child.

The topics that can be covered by a parenting order include:

  • who the child will live with
  • how much time the child will spend with each parent and with other people, such as grandparents
  • how the parents will make major life decisions for the child
  • how the child will communicate with a parent they do not live with, or other people such as grandparents        
  • any other aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child.

A parenting order can also deal with the relocation of your child.

All of these topics could also be addressed by agreement with your partner, either informally or with a parenting plan - the difference is that a parenting order can be enforced by the Court. Most separating couples do manage to come to an amicable agreement. Less than five per cent of disputes need to be resolved by the Court.

There is more information about what a parenting order can do on the types of parenting orders page, and on the Attorney-General's website, Parenting Orders - what you need to know.

When is a parenting order application appropriate?

Parenting order applications are usually made if:

  • parents cannot agree on arrangements for the children, for example, where the children will live, or who they will spend special occasions or holidays with
  • the situation of the parent or the children changes and this affects existing parenting orders, for example, where one parent moves interstate (note: you can also make a parenting plan to adjust parenting orders if circumstances change)
  • there is an emergency and you or the children are at risk
  • there is family violence or child abuse
  • you need to find or return children
  • you need to prevent children from being removed from your care or moved to a new location because it affects their right to a relationship with both parents, or those significant to their care.

How to get a parenting order

The Court will make parenting orders after it is clear you can not come to an agreement with your partner – if family dispute resolution and the Court processes fail or are not appropriate.

Family law requires families who have a dispute about children to make a genuine effort to reach an agreement through family dispute resolution. Before applying for parenting orders, you must have attempted to reach an agreement. A copy of a certificate from an accredited family dispute resolution centre must accompany the application.

If there is a history of family violence or child abuse, it may not be appropriate to attend family dispute resolution. You can apply for an exemption if this is the case. Speak to staff at the family dispute resolution service about your options and the support services that are available.

The Court can make a parenting order based on an agreement between the parties (known as consent orders) or after a court hearing.

Either parent can apply for parenting orders, as can other relatives or people who are important in the children’s lives. The law recognises that people other than parents, such as grandparents and extended family, may play an important role in children’s lives. For this reason, people other than the parents can apply for an order or be included in an order.

Resolving issues this way is less formal than going to court and involve less money, time and emotional stress. Since both parties are involved in shaping a solution, it improves the chances that an agreement will be long lasting.

How the Court decides on parenting orders

When the parents can't agree on arrangements, the Court has to decide what is in the best interests of the child. This is the most important consideration when the Court makes parenting orders.

The aim is for children to enjoy a relationship with each of their parents, provided it is safe to do so.

The focus is on the rights of children and the responsibilities that each parent has towards their children, rather than on parental rights.

This is sometimes misunderstood and parents are sometimes misinformed. For example, parents may be told they have a right to spend equal time with the child, or that they are entitled to a certain time with the child if they have paid child support. This is misleading and does not apply when parents are considering what arrangements to agree on.

The court assumes that both parents will be involved in making important parenting decisions, but this does not mean that parents will spend equal time with the child. The best interests of the child come first.

From 6 May 2024, the following information is only relevant for parenting orders concerning children whose parents are, or were, married to each other.

The legislation provides clear directions to the court as to what must be considered when making parenting orders, including:

  1. what arrangements would promote the safety (including safety from being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence, abuse, neglect, or other harm) of:
    1. the child; and
    2. each person who has care of the child (whether or not a person has parental responsibility for the child);
  2. any views expressed by the child;
  3. the developmental, psychological, emotional and cultural needs of the child;
  4. the capacity of each person who has or is proposed to have parental responsibility for the child to provide for the child’s developmental, psychological, emotional and cultural needs;
  5. the benefit to the child of being able to have a relationship with the child’s parents, and other people who are significant to the child, where it is safe to do so;
  6. anything else that is relevant to the particular circumstances of the child.

In considering the matters set out above, the court must include consideration of:

  1. any history of family violence, abuse or neglect involving the child or a person caring for the child (whether or not the person had parental responsibility for the child); and
  2. any family violence order that applies or has applied to the child or a member of the child’s family.

Additionally, for children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, the court must further consider:

  1. the child’s right to enjoy the child’s Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, by having the support, opportunity and encouragement necessary:
    1. to connect with, and maintain their connection with, members of their family and with their community, culture, country and language; and
    2. to explore the full extent of that culture, consistent with the child’s age and developmental level and the child’s views; and
    3. to develop a positive appreciation of that culture; and
  2. the likely impact any proposed parenting order will have on that right.

Parenting time

From 6 May 2024, this information is not relevant for parenting orders concerning children whose parents are, or were, married to each other.

If equal shared parental responsibility is presumed, the court must consider whether it is practical and in the best interests of the children for them to spend equal time or ‘substantial and significant time’ with each parent.

Substantial and significant time includes children spending weekdays, weekends and holidays with each parent and each parent having meaningful involvement with the children’s daily routine. It includes things such as a parent spending time with children on significant days such as birthdays or at school concerts.

Practical considerations

From 6 May 2024, this information is not relevant for parenting orders concerning children whose parents are, or were, married to each other.

When deciding whether an arrangement is practical, the court will look at:

  • how equal or substantial and significant time will affect the children
  • how far apart the parties live
  • each parent’s ability to:
    • share care and communicate with one another
    • resolve difficulties in relation to the proposed arrangements
    • make sure that the arrangement works in the best interests of the children, on an ongoing basis
  • any other consideration the court thinks relevant.

Considering children’s views

When making parenting orders, the court does not usually hear directly from children, although it can. Children do not usually go into court.

Children’s attitudes and views may be made known to the court through a family report or an independent children’s lawyer.

More information

For more information, see these pages and documents:

Last updated: 16-Apr-2024

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