Parenting agreements

There are no strict rules about how parents should make an agreement to care for a child after separation.

What is a parenting agreement?

It’s usually best for everyone involved if parents can come to their own agreement, focusing on the needs and best interests of the child. Parenting agreements can be:

  • an oral agreement,
  • a written parenting plan, or
  • an agreement that is put into a formal court order, called ‘consent orders’. Obtaining consent orders requires making an application to the court.

Parenting plans

A parenting plan is a written record of an agreement between the parents about the care of the children that is also signed and dated. However, it is not a legally enforceable agreement.

There is no required format for a parenting plan.

Making a parenting plan is cheaper and less stressful than going to court for a parenting order.

Community-based family support services that offer dispute resolution can help parents make a parenting plan to suit the particular family circumstances. Some family support services have examples of parenting plans that may help parents. 

Parenting orders

If parents continue to disagree about parenting arrangements, they may need the court to determine the parenting arrangement.  

Parents may also make an agreement between them, but want it put into formal ‘consent orders’.

The Australian Government has published a handbook on how to develop parenting orders Parenting Orders – what you need to know. This is a resource for separating parents, legal practitioners and other family law professionals, to help prepare clear and practical parenting orders that focus on the best interests of the children.

The family courts also provide guidance about applying for parenting orders:

What to consider when making a parenting agreement

When making a parenting agreement, parents should focus on what is best for their child. As children grow, and their needs change, parents may have to update their parenting agreement.

Parents should think about a wide range of things when making an agreement, including:

  • who the child should live with and spend time with
  • who should be responsible for making major long-term decisions for the child and potentially the way consultations should be carried out if parents are to consult with each other
  • the child’s relationship with other significant people
  • steps to be taken before an application to the court is made if the agreement no longer reflects the changing needs of the child or the parties
  • the process to be used for resolving disputes, and
  • any other aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

There are people and services available who have specialist skills in helping parents make parenting agreements after separation.

Jack and Alex have separated, and they are not sure how to make arrangements for the care and support of their two children, Lily and Eddie. They contact an accredited Family Dispute Resolution practitioner who helps them sort through the issues and make a written parenting plan.

Related links

Parenting Orders – what you need to know

Next steps

Think about what your children need for their short and long-term wellbeing.

Work out what issues need to be covered in a parenting agreement.

Decide if you want the parenting agreement to be oral, a written parenting plan, or in the form of a court order.

Contact a family law service or Family Dispute Resolution practitioner for help to develop a parenting agreement. Use Find Local Help or the Family Relationship Advice Line.

Get legal advice where necessary.

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