Parenting Plans and Consent Orders

Guiding separating parents to work through parenting arrangements

What is a Parenting Plan?

The family law system in Australia encourages separating parents to work out parenting arrangements for their children without having to go to court. One way parents can set these arrangements into place for their children is to make a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is designed to encourage parents to reach an informal agreement between themselves about matters concerning their children.

Separation can be painful for everyone involved – especially children. During this time children need understanding, love and support. In most circumstances, it is usually in the child’s best interest to maintain a relationship and contact with both of their parents and other significant people, such as grandparents. Some certainty for the future is also important for everyone.

A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement that covers the day to day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of a child’s daily life, as well as how parents will agree and consult on important long-term issues about their children. Other people, such as grandparents or step-parents, can be included in a parenting plan. It can be changed at any time as long as both parents agree.

The potential difficulty with a Parenting Plan is that it is a voluntary agreement between parties that is not legally enforceable. This is a suitable arrangement where both parties meet their obligations under the plan – but if one or both parties start to breach the agreement and the relationship between the parents breaks down further, it may be advisable to obtain a Consent Order to consider the need for enforceable orders. An agreement in a Parenting Plan can be drafted into Court Orders by consent. In event, the voluntary agreement between the parents can then be enforced by the Court.

Although not legally enforceable, a parenting plan can negate a term of a court order so that it is no longer enforceable. Before entering into a parenting plan, you should seek legal advice. For more information about family dispute resolution or parenting plans, go to, or get in touch with our Family Law Team to learn more.

What is a Consent Order?

A Consent Order is a written agreement that is approved by a Court. If you have reached agreement and you want to formalise that agreement and make it binding, you can apply to the Court for Consent Orders.

In addition to obtaining Consent Orders about the care, welfare and development of your children (known as parenting orders), you may also seek to formalise an agreement about the division of property or maintenance through Consent Orders.

Consent orders are legally binding on both parties and are enforceable. The Court can impose penalties if either or both parties refuse to follow the Orders.

What is a de facto relationship?

A de facto relationship is defined in Section 4AA of the Family Law Act 1975. The law requires that you and your former partner, who may be of the same or opposite sex, had a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. However, your relationship is not a de facto relationship if you were legally married to one another or if you are related by family.

Can I apply to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court to have my de facto dispute determined if it’s about my children?

Yes. The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court deal with issues related to the children of de facto relationships in the same way as the children of married couples. For more information, see the Children’s Matters section of this website.

Can I apply to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court to have my de facto financial dispute determined?

Yes. From 1 March 2009, parties to an eligible de facto relationship which has broken down can apply to the FamilyCourt or the Federal Circuit Court to have financial matters determined in the same way as married couples. You must apply for de facto financial orders within two years of the breakdown of your relationship. After this time you need the Court’s permission to apply.

Examples of financial matters include the adjustment of property interests or maintenance of a party to the de facto relationship.

Before the Court can determine your financial dispute, you must satisfy the Court of all of the following:

  • You were in a genuine de facto relationship with your former partner which has broken down
  • You meet one of four gateway criteria
  • You have a geographical connection to a participating jurisdiction
  • Your relationship broke down after 1 March 2009 (or after 1 July 2010 if you have a geographical connection toSouth Australia only); although you may be able to apply to the Courts if your relationship broke down prior to the date applicable to your state.

You should obtain legal advice about whether your circumstances satisfy the criteria before filing an application.

For more information, see the fact sheet Property division when de facto relationships break down – new Commonwealth law for separating de facto couples. This fact sheet will give you information about whether you are eligible to make an application for financial matters in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.

How do I make an application to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court?

You should obtain legal advice about whether your circumstances satisfy the criteria before filing an application.

Your application is made using the same forms that are used by parties to a marriage and your case will be dealt with under the same procedures that apply to married couples making the same type of application. See the Property and Money Matters section of this website for more information.

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