Parenting Plan vs Consent Orders in NSW: Understanding the Differences

A parenting plan and consent orders are two legal documents that parents can use to formalise their parenting arrangements. While both documents aim to provide structure and clarity to co-parenting arrangements, there are key differences between the two.

Both parenting plans and consent orders are outlined under the Family Law Act and Family Law Rules. Each covers the various issues related to caring for a child or children, including living arrangements, education, time spent, and more. The key difference between these documents is their degree of formality, as well as the process for obtaining them.

Whether you decide to use a parenting plan or you choose to pursue consent orders, obtaining legal advice from experienced family lawyers will be critical to securing outcomes that are in the best interests of the child or children.


Parenting Plan Vs Consent Orders: An Overview

When it comes to parenting arrangements after separation or divorce, parents have two options to formalise their agreement: a parenting plan or consent orders. Both options have their pros and cons, and it’s essential to understand the differences between them to make an informed decision.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents that outlines arrangements for their children’s care and welfare. It’s a flexible and informal family law agreement that parents can make without involving the court. Parents can include any terms they agree on, such as living arrangements, visitation schedules, education, health care, and other important matters.

One of the main advantages of a parenting plan is that it’s a voluntary agreement that reflects the parents’ wishes and preferences. It’s a collaborative and child-focused process that encourages parents to communicate and work together for the benefit of their children. However, a parenting plan is not legally binding, and if one parent breaches the agreement, the other parent can’t enforce it without going to court.

Consent orders are legally binding agreements that parents can make by applying to the court. They are like a court order, but they are made by agreement rather than after a hearing. Proposed consent orders can cover the same matters as a parenting plan, such as living arrangements, visitation schedules, education, health care, and other important matters.

One of the main advantages of making an application for consent orders is that they are legally enforceable. If one parent breaches the agreement, the other parent can apply to the court to enforce the order or seek penalties for non-compliance. Consent orders provide certainty and security for both parents and children, as they set out the terms of the agreement in a formal and binding way.

A parenting order is different again from both a parenting plan (an informal agreement) and consent orders (a formal and legally enforceable agreement). Parenting orders are legally binding court orders made by a court about the child/children, in accordance with Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975 – this happens in the event the parties are unable to come to an agreement.

Key Differences: Parenting Plan vs Consent Orders

About Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents, outlining the arrangements for the care and upbringing of their children. It is a voluntary agreement that can be made between parents without the involvement of the court.

Key Elements of a Parenting Plan

A parenting plan typically includes the following key elements:

  • Living arrangements for the children, including where they will live and how much time they will spend with each parent
  • Communication arrangements, including how parents will communicate with each other and with the children
  • Education and childcare arrangements, including decisions about schooling and childcare providers
  • Health and medical arrangements, including decisions about medical treatment and health insurance
  • Financial arrangements, including child support and other financial responsibilities
  • Dispute resolution processes, including how disputes will be resolved if they arise

Benefits of Parenting Plans

There are several benefits to using a parenting plan, including:

  • Flexibility: Parenting plans can be tailored to the specific needs of the family and can be adjusted as circumstances change.
  • Cost-effective: Parenting plans can be created without the involvement of lawyers or the court, making them a more cost-effective option for families.
  • Cooperation: Creating a parenting plan requires parents to work together and communicate effectively, which can improve their relationship and reduce conflict.

Limitations of Parenting Plans

While parenting plans can be a useful tool for many families, they do have some limitations, including:

  • Lack of enforceability: Parenting plans are not legally enforceable, which means that if one parent does not comply with the terms of the plan, there may be limited options for the other parent to enforce it.
  • Limited protection: Parenting plans do not offer the same level of protection as court orders, which can provide more certainty and security for families.
  • Inability to resolve complex issues: Parenting plans may not be suitable for families with complex issues or high levels of conflict, as they may require more formal legal intervention.

Consent Orders are written agreements that are approved by the Family Court through an application made to the Court. They are legally binding and enforceable, and can cover parenting arrangements for children, as well as arrangements with respect to property settlement and spousal maintenance.

Key Components of Consent Orders

Consent Orders must include specific details about the arrangements being made, including:

  • The parties involved
  • The children involved
  • The parenting arrangements, including who the children will live with and spend time with
  • Any specific issues, such as schooling or medical treatment
  • Any financial arrangements, such as child support or property settlement
  • Any other relevant details, such as travel arrangements or communication protocols

Consent Orders must also be signed by all parties involved and lodged with the Family Court for approval.

Advantages of Consent Orders

Consent Orders have several advantages, including:

  • Legally Enforceable: They are legally binding and enforceable, providing certainty and security for all parties involved.
  • Mutually Agreed Terms: They can be tailored to suit the specific needs and circumstances of the parties involved.

Drawbacks of Consent Orders

There are also some drawbacks to Consent Orders, including:

  • Difficult to Change: They can be difficult to change once they have been made, requiring an application to the court.
  • Cost: They can be expensive to obtain, particularly if legal advice is required.
  • Relies on Cooperation: They may not be appropriate in situations where parties are unable to agree on the terms of the order.

When it comes to deciding between a parenting plan and a consent order, there are several factors to consider.

Factors to Consider

Some factors to consider when choosing between a parenting plan and a consent order include:

  • Flexibility: A parenting plan is more flexible than a consent order, as it can be changed by agreement between the parties at any time. Consent orders, on the other hand, can only be changed by applying to the court for a variation or revocation.
  • Enforceability: Consent orders are legally binding and enforceable, while parenting plans are not. If one party breaches a consent order, the other party can apply to the court for enforcement or other remedies. If one party breaches a parenting plan, the other party may need to seek legal advice or mediation to resolve the issue.
  • Cost: A parenting plan is generally cheaper than obtaining a consent order, as it does not require court involvement. However, it is important to note that if the parties are unable to agree on the terms of a parenting plan, they may need to engage a mediator or lawyer, which can increase costs.
  • Certainty: Consent orders provide greater certainty than parenting plans, as they set out clear and specific terms for parenting arrangements. Parenting plans, on the other hand, may be less clear or detailed, which can lead to disputes or misunderstandings.

It is important to seek legal advice when considering a parenting plan or consent order. An experienced family lawyer can explain the legal implications of each option and help you make an informed decision based on your individual circumstances. They can also assist you in negotiating the terms of a parenting plan or consent order, and guide you through the court process if necessary.

Work with Experienced Family Lawyers - Call Burke Mead Lawyers Today

Whether you want to pursue a parenting plan or consent orders, you will need the help of experienced family law professionals to provide legal advice and guidance on the court process.

The team at Burke Mead Lawyers are experts in family legal services, including parenting plans and consent orders. Our legal team can assist you throughout this process to protect your legal rights and help achieve the best outcomes for your family – contact Burke Mead Lawyers today.

About the Author
Ebony Purcell

Ebony Purcell is an Associate in the Family Law Team at Burke Mead Lawyers. Ebony's experience as a solicitor exclusively in family law spans more than 10 years advocating for her clients. She also regularly appears for clients in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia both locally and throughout the country.