How do parenting plans work?

How do parenting plans work?

By cropped Clara Suki

· Read time: 5 minutes

A parenting plan is a strategic document that aims to uphold the best interests of your child by finalising decisions regarding their welfare. It aims to create stability and support for your children – as well as parents – especially during difficult family breakdowns.  

Parenting plans work through setting expectations and obligations that parents will follow in their post-separation co-parenting.

What is a parenting plan? 

A parenting plan is a formal document that specifies the obligations that each parent has to their children. A parenting plan is incredibly important to ensure that you and your ex partner understand how best to work together to support your children. 

Being clear about your expectations will create stability and ensure that your family is able to live normally after your relationship breakdown. 

Whilst a parenting plan may not always be legally recognised, some courts require that separating partners create one as part of a child custody agreement. 

However, even if the court in your state does not legally require one, it is recommended that you endeavour to create a parenting plan with your ex partner. 

What should a parenting plan include? 

A parenting plan should act as a long term strategy to facilitate effective co-parenting and thus suit your child’s needs. 

One of the main issues that you should cover in your parenting plan are your child’s living arrangements. This will involve negotiating a visitation schedule, trips, and any holidays you may have planned. 

You may decide that it is best to be extremely clear about exactly how much time each parent is spending with each child. 

Financial Obligations in a Parenting Plan

Another important point of discussion is each parent’s respective financial obligations. Being clear about your shared finances will ensure that there are less disputes later.  

Your parenting plan can also include car seat arrangements (particularly if there are different precautions for younger children in different states), how children will navigate school, and who will be in charge of different extracurricular activities. 

A detailed parenting plan may also project arrangements for how last minute schedule changes can be dealt with between parents. 

You may also want to establish which parent will be the first point of contact, particularly if your child is staying away from both parents (e.g. during a school trip or holiday). 

How much detail is required?

The amount of detail that your parenting plan will include will most likely be determined by how strained or relaxed your relationship is with your ex partner. 

Whilst the earlier stages of co-parenting may benefit from more specific plans, you should expect to be able to have a more relaxed schedule as you and your ex partner settle in as co-parents. 

Thus, it is important to note that a parenting plan can be amended iteratively, to suit your child’s needs. 

It should also be reviewed periodically to ensure that it continuously upholds the best interests of your child. 

How do I make a parenting plan? 

A parenting plan can be written up after it has been negotiated by both parents. Negotiations can be done with or without a family lawyer. 

If you believe that you may be at a disadvantage during negotiations, you may choose to seek legal advice or a family dispute resolution practitioner. If you choose to, this process can also take place electronically, via phone or email. 

Formalising your parenting plan will be helpful as it can be used for future reference to ensure that each parent is respecting their obligations. 

What if my ex partner and I cannot agree on a parenting plan? 

If both parties are unable to agree on a parenting plan, then you may wish to apply to the court for a parenting order. A parenting order is a legally binding document and must be followed. 

Thus, it ensures that each parent respects their obligations to their child. This also means that parenting orders are difficult to change. Such orders are only made by the court if it upholds the ‘best interests’ of the child.


Parenting plans are a crucial part of Australian family law. They are designed to ensure that both parents understand their obligations to their children and work together effectively to support them. 

A parenting plan is a formal document that outlines the living arrangements, visitation schedules, financial obligations, and other important details relating to the care of the child. 

Although not legally binding, parenting plans are highly recommended, and some courts require them as part of a child custody agreement. Creating a detailed parenting plan can prevent future disputes and help both parents understand their responsibilities. 

If both parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, a parenting order may be necessary. This legally binding document ensures that each parent respects their obligations to their child, but seeking legal advice before applying for a parenting order is recommended. 

If you need any assistance with parenting plan issues, our family law team is here to help. Just schedule a time to talk to a team member here.

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