If you have reached an agreement with your ex-partner regarding arrangements for your children, there are 2 ways that you can document that agreement, specifically:

  1. Parenting Plan; or
  2. Consent Orders.

Both Parenting Plans and Consent Orders document your parenting arrangement and include all relevant matters concerning your children such as where they will live, their communication with each parent, the responsibility each parent will have for the children and outlines a format for parents to communicate about schooling, medical and other major decisions.

However, there are significant differences between the 2 documents. This below table outlines the differences and the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Consent Orders are completed by parties, lodged with the Court in addition to an Application for Consent Orders, and if accepted by the Court are made into Court Orders.

 Benefits of Consent Orders

  • Binding and enforceable;
  • Can incorporate your property settlement terms if you have also agreed on a division of your assets and liabilities;
  • Unable to be varied or overturned unless there is a significant change in circumstances warranting such an amendment (we note this can also be a disadvantage);
  • There are penalties if a parent does not comply with the Orders (unless they have a reasonable excuse for doing so).

 Disbenefits of Consent Orders

  • Difficult to vary or overturn unless a party can prove that there has been a significant change in circumstances to warrant such an amendment. Accordingly, you must be sure when signing orders that you are able to comply with them and that they will practically work for your children and family circumstances.

Parenting Plans can be drafted in any form that the parties select and are not required to be approved by the Court.

Benefits of Parenting Plans

  • Little to no formality requirements, and does not need to be witnessed;
  • Can be amended and varied to reflect your changing parenting arrangements.

Disbenefits of Parenting Plans

  • Unable to be enforced, noting that it does not have the force of a Court Order, but rather, merely acts as evidence towards the ‘intention’ of the parties;
  • There are no consequences if a parent does not follow the terms of a parenting plan.

We recommend that families with any of the following issues enter into Consent Orders, so that if any issue does arise and becomes contentious in the future, it can quickly be resolved by reference to the Orders and, if necessary, enforcement by the Court:

  • Negative and/or poor parental communication;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Mental health issues;
  • Children with health difficulties;
  • Risk that a parent may relocate with the child;
  • Disputes in relation to the children’s schooling, name, culture, or medical decisions; or
  • Have a history of one or both parents not complying with previously arranged agreements,

We recommend that as soon as you and your spouse have reached an arrangement for your parenting, that you obtain specialist family law advice before signing off on any documentation to ensure that the agreement you have reached is appropriately reflected in your agreement, is an arrangement that will practically work for you and your children, and is enforceable.