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What Is The Difference Between A Parenting Plan And A Parenting Order?

Apr 10, 2024

Separation can be a profoundly challenging time for parents, as they navigate their emotional turmoil and the complex legal landscape that comes with arranging the future care of their children.

At the heart of this legal landscape in Australia for parenting agreements are two primary frameworks: Parenting Plans and Parenting Orders. These frameworks serve as the cornerstones for establishing clear, workable arrangements that prioritise the child’s well-being and provide structure during a period of significant change.

While both aim to address the care and support of children post-separation, they differ significantly in terms of legal enforceability, and the processes involved in their creation. This article aims to dissect these differences, providing parents with a clearer understanding of each option’s implications and guiding them towards making informed decisions that best suit their family’s unique circumstances.

What are Parenting Orders?

In Queensland, as in the rest of Australia, parenting orders carry significant legal weight and are enforceable through the courts. Contravention of these orders can lead to serious legal repercussions.

Parenting orders are formal directives sanctioned by the Family Court under the Family Law Act 1975, setting out the care arrangements for children after their parents’ separation. These orders encompass various aspects crucial to the child’s upbringing and welfare:

  • Residency: Outlining with whom the child will predominantly reside.
  • Time Spent: Specifying the schedule for the child to spend time with each parent and other significant people.
  • Decision-Making: Determining how parents will make significant decisions about the child’s health, education, and overall welfare.

To obtain a Parenting order in Queensland, you must navigate through the Family Court system. The procedure usually involves:

  1. Family Dispute Resolution: Engaging in mediation efforts to resolve the matter amicably outside of court, is a step required under the Family Law Act 1975 unless exemptions apply.
  2. Court Proceedings: If mediation fails or is deemed unsuitable, the matter escalates to a court hearing. Here, a judge assesses the case based on the child’s best interests before issuing a parenting order.
  3. Filing an Application: Initiating the process by submitting an application to the Court, detailing the proposed terms for the parenting order.

An experienced family lawyer can assist you through each step of the process to help you achieve the best outcome for you and your family.

What are Parenting Plans?

Parenting plans are voluntary agreements created by parents to outline the care and time arrangements for their children following separation. The primary purpose of a parenting plan is to establish a cooperative framework for parenting, detailing how each parent will contribute to the upbringing and welfare of their child without the formal intervention of the Court.

Parenting Plans are not legally binding – they offer parents the flexibility to tailor arrangements to suit their family’s unique needs and circumstances. Unlike parenting orders, there are no specific legal consequences for not contravening the terms described in the plan.  It allows the parties to modify the plan more easily to best suit the needs of the child and the circumstances of the parents change over time.

Creating a Parenting Plan is a collaborative process where both parents negotiate and agree on various aspects of their child’s care and upbringing. Parents can draft a plan independently or seek guidance from a family lawyer to ensure all considerations are comprehensively covered.

A typical Parenting Plan includes:

  • Living Arrangements: Where the child will live and the time spent with each parent.
  • Health and Education: Decisions about the child’s healthcare, schooling, and extracurricular activities.
  • Communication: How parents will communicate with each other and with the child.
  • Dispute Resolution: Methods for resolving any future disagreements about the parenting plan.

Key Differences Between Parenting Orders and Parenting Plans

Legal Binding Nature

Parenting Orders issued by a court are legally binding in Queensland and must be strictly adhered to – there are serious legal consequences for contravening these Orders.

In contrast, parenting plans are informal agreements. They are not legally binding and rely on the cooperative spirit of both parents to fulfil the agreed terms. The informal nature of parenting plans means they can be modified at any time by mutual consent, without judicial intervention.

Consequences of Breach

Contravening Parenting Orders can lead to Court action, including fines, enforcement proceedings, or even changes to time arrangements with children. Contraventions are viewed seriously and can significantly impact the parental obligations and responsibilities of the offending party.

On the other hand, while contravening a parenting plan does not have direct legal consequences, it can influence later legal proceedings. Courts can consider past behaviour, including whether a party has contravened a Parenting Plan when making decisions about formalising future Parenting Orders.

Formality, Flexibility and Timeframe

Parenting Orders are formal and need to be set out a certain way before a Court will consider issuing them. This process can be time-consuming, often involving mediation, Court hearings, and considerable documentation. The formality of Parenting Orders provides a clear, structured framework for parenting post-separation but with less flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances without returning to Court.

Conversely, Parenting Plans are highly flexible and can be created and revised without formal processes, making them quicker to implement and easier to adapt over time. This flexibility can be beneficial for parents who maintain a cooperative relationship and can mutually agree on the best interests of their child.

Deciding What’s Best For Your Family

Choosing the right post-separation parenting arrangement—be it a Parenting Plan or a Parenting Order—depends on your family’s specific needs and circumstances.

If you and your ex-partner communicate effectively and can agree on terms amicably, a Parenting Plan might suffice, offering flexibility to adapt to future changes. In contrast, if there are conflict or trust issues, a legally binding Parenting Order could provide the necessary structure and enforceability.

Consulting with a family lawyer can provide clarity on both options and help align your choice with your child’s best interests.

Book a Free Consultation with a Family Lawyer

Deciding on the best path for your family requires thoughtful consideration of your specific circumstances, relationship dynamics, and the best interests of your children. At The Legal House, we pride ourselves on being different from traditional legal practices. Our approach is personal and client-focused, ensuring that you are treated with respect and empathy.

We offer a complimentary first consultation, allowing you to experience first-hand our dedication to your welfare and legal success. We invite you to take this opportunity to discuss your situation, explore your options, and confirm that we are the right fit for your legal needs. If you’re located in Queensland, book a free consultation with us and take the first step towards a resolution that prioritises your family’s well-being.

Nick Harrison

Nick Harrison

Founder & Solicitor

Nick is passionate about family law, domestic violence, and wills and estates, Nick has been practising as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland and the High Court of Australia since 2012.  He provides practical legal advice to his clients, using his unique blend of impeccable legal skills and real-life experience as a police officer, husband and father.

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