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:

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 in the Attorney-General's publication, Parenting Orders - what you need to know.

When is a parenting order application appropriate?

Parenting order applications are usually made if:

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 meaningful relationship with each of their parents, and to be protected from harm.

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 improtant parenting decisions, but this does not mean that parents will spend equal time with the child. The best interests of the child come first.

Parenting time

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

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

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: 1-May-2019

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