Family Law
February 17, 2022

Parenting Plan Versus Parenting Orders

Most parents can successfully work together after a separation to create their own agreement about where a child will live and how they will spend time with the child. If agreement is reached, parents will not have to go to Court and instead they can just enter into a Parenting Plan or file Consent Orders to formalise the parenting agreement reached. This article discusses the difference between a Parenting Plan and a Parenting Order.

What are Parenting Plans?

The requirements of a Parenting Plan are set out in section 63C of the Family Law Act 1975.

Parenting Plans provide a flexible and informal way for parents to outline parenting arrangements for the care and access to children. They are written agreements signed and dated by both parents which cover various aspects such as living arrangements, visitation schedules, communication and decision-making.

Parenting Plans encourage co-operation and allow parents to tailor arrangements to suit the specific needs of their children and family dynamics. Parents can agree for a Parenting Plan to remain in force until their child turns 18, or they can agree to have the Parenting Plan last for a shorter period of time such as 6 months or 1 year (for e.g. if a child is 2 years old and the parents need time to see how the child adapts to new arrangements as it grows) following which the Parenting Plan can easily be reviewed and updated.

However, it is important to note that Parenting Plans are not approved by the Court. This means that they are not legally binding and their terms are unenforceable. So if one parent acts contrary to a Parenting Plan, then unlike a Parenting Order, the other parent is unable to make an application to the Court for breach.

What are Parenting Orders?

A Parenting Order is an official document sealed by the Court that formalises the parties’ agreed parenting arrangements. Parenting Orders are obtained by consent when parents jointly file an Application for Consent Orders in Court. Parenting Orders cover the same aspects as Parenting Plans but require the approval of the Court first, whereby the Court must be satisfied that the Orders sought are in the best interests of the child.

Parenting Orders are legally binding and enforceable. If a parent does not comply with an Order, the other parent is entitled to make a Contravention Application with respect to a breach, and the defaulting parent may be sanctioned by the Court. 

Parenting Orders can later be varied by the consent of both parents. The parents would simply need to submit new Consent Orders and provided that the new Orders are in the child’s best interests, the Court will make the new parenting Orders.

However, if a parent does not agree to later vary the Parenting Orders, the parent seeking to vary the Orders must file an Initiating Application with the Court and convince the Court that there has been a significant change in circumstances requiring the Orders to be amended. This will only be considered in very limited circumstances – see the decision of Rice & Asplund (1979)

To find out more about Parenting Plans or Consent Orders, or for any other family law issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our friendly family lawyers at Greenleaf Legal on (02) 8605 3437 for an initial consultation today.

The Author

Amanda Elias