Parenting Plans vs. Consent Orders

Understanding the legal frameworks available for resolving parenting arrangements is crucial for families going through separation or divorce. Parenting plans and consent orders are two common methods for formalising agreements about where children live, what time they spend with each parent and other parental responsibilities. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the differences between parenting plans and consent orders, the benefits and limitations of each, and how to determine which option is right for your family.

What Are Parenting Plans?

Parenting plans are written agreements that outline the arrangements for the care and responsibility of children following separation or divorce. These plans can be created by the parents themselves or with the assistance of a solicitor and can cover various aspects of parenting, including:

  • living arrangements
  • Spending time arrangements
  • Communication and decision-making processes
  • Any other relevant parenting matters

Parenting plans offer flexibility and the opportunity for parents to tailor arrangements to suit the unique needs and circumstances of their family. They are informal documents but are not an order and therefore cannot be enforced in a court.

Understanding Consent Orders

Consent orders, on the other hand, are legally binding agreements approved by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Like parenting plans, consent orders address similar parenting issues, living arrangements, spend time with arrangements and parental responsibility. Orders however create a legal obligation that can be enforced by a court and a court can impose penalties on a non complying party.

To obtain consent orders, parents must reach an agreement and submit a formal application to the court. If the court is satisfied that the proposed arrangements are in the best interests of the children, it will make the orders.

Benefits of Parenting Plans

Parenting plans offer several advantages for families navigating separation or divorce:

  • Flexibility: Parenting plans allow parents to create personalised arrangements that suit the unique needs and preferences of their family. They can be modified as circumstances change, providing flexibility over time, and can be for a limited duration which can be beneficial for young children who’s needs will change rapidly.
  • Cost-effective: Parenting plans typically involve less time and expense than obtaining consent orders through the court system. Parents can negotiate directly or with the assistance of mediators, avoiding lengthy legal proceedings.
  • Maintaining control: By creating their own parenting plan, parents retain control over the decision-making process. They can work collaboratively to find solutions that prioritise the best interests of their children without court intervention.

Benefits of Consent Orders

While parenting plans offer flexibility and autonomy, consent orders provide additional benefits:

  • Legal enforceability: Consent orders are legally binding and enforceable by the courts. If one parent fails to comply with the terms of the orders, the other parent can seek enforcement through the court system.
  • Certainty and stability: Consent orders provide a higher level of certainty and stability for both parents and children. When made, consent orders will be on a ‘final’ basis. Final orders will apply until:
    1. A child turns 18 years of age; or
    2. Parents agree to vary the orders; or
    3. A further application is made to the court to vary the orders.

In the last case a court will only vary the order if satisfied there has been a material change in circumstances that justified the making of a new order.

  • Protection: Consent orders can offer legal protection and security for both parents. They provide a formal framework for resolving disputes and can help prevent unilateral changes to parenting arrangements without proper justification.

Which Option Is Right for Your Family?

Determining whether a parenting plan or consent orders are appropriate for your family depends on various factors, including:

  • The level of cooperation and communication between parents
  • The complexity of parenting issues and potential for future conflict
  • The need for legal enforceability and certainty
  • The willingness to engage in court proceedings, if necessary

In some cases, parents may start with a parenting plan as a temporary or interim arrangement while they work towards obtaining consent orders. This approach allows them to establish initial agreements quickly while seeking the added security of legally enforceable orders.

In conclusion, both parenting plans and consent orders are valuable tools for resolving parenting arrangements following separation. Each option offers distinct benefits and considerations, and the right choice for your family will depend on your unique circumstances and priorities. Whether you opt for a flexible parenting plan or seek the added certainty of consent orders, prioritising the best interests of your children is paramount in navigating the complexities of family law.

If you are considering a parenting plan or consent orders, it is important to speak to a family lawyer first. We have experienced solicitors in the Newcastle and the Central Coast area that can help you through your family law matter.

We offer a fixed fee initial consultation for $220. Simply Contact one of our friendly staff members to make an appointment.