What Is the Difference Between a Parenting Plan and Parenting Orders?

What Is the Difference Between a Parenting Plan and Parenting Orders?

By cropped david wu

· Read time: 4 minutes

After a divorce parents often need to come to an agreement as to how they should care for the child. While this can be done orally, it is usually recommended to have something in writing. This can come in two forms – parenting plans and parenting orders. This article explains the difference.

What is a Parenting Plan? 

A Parenting Plan is an informal written agreement between two parents of a child concerning the care and wellbeing of the child. A Parenting Plan needs to be in writing, dated and signed by both parents to be valid. 

Parenting Plans should be clear and specific and should relate to issues such as how much time the child spends with each parent, how the child’s needs are catered for and important issues such as the child’s activities, health or education. 

Parenting Plans are not legally enforceable. That means if a Parenting Plan is contravened by either parent, they are not breaking the law and cannot be forced to abide by the plan. 

While Parenting Plans are not legally binding on the court, the court can rely on a Parenting Plan to determine the intents of both parties prior to coming to court. Furthermore, if there is a contravention of a Parenting Plan, that can be useful evidence for the court to determine a parent’s capacity to care for a child. 

What is a Parenting Order? 

A Parenting Order (known officially as ‘consent orders’) is a written agreement between the parents of a child which must be approved by the court. These normally are done when a Parenting Plan cannot be arranged, or if the court is concerned for the welfare of a child. A Parenting Order is also not free, and will require a $165 fee to be paid to the Family Court.

The key difference between a Parenting Order and a Parenting Plan is that parenting orders are legally enforceable. This has two implications. The first is that the court can penalise you for not following your obligations in a Parenting Order. Secondly, you will have proactive obligations to take reasonable steps to affect those orders. For example, if your child is refusing to see the other parent despite an arrangement for such, it is insufficient to ignore the situation. You would have to take concrete steps such as encouraging your child or communicating to the other parent to prove to the court that you are actively fulfilling your obgliations.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each? 

Parenting Plans have 3 distinct advantages over Parenting Orders. Firstly, they are far more convenient and cheap. Parenting Plans can be created informally and at short notice. There are also a number of services that can help you create a Parenting Plan such as a Family Relationship Centre or a lawyer. 

Secondly, Parenting Plans are far more flexible. Unlike Parenting Orders, Parenting Plans can be updated and changed easily with the written consent of both parties. While you can amend a Parenting Order, this requires an application to the court which can be a frustrating process. Furthermore, changing circumstances can often lead to the inevitable breaching of some agreements. This is where Parenting Plans can be suitable.

Finally, Parenting Plans avoid a lot of the acrimony and conflict which is inherent to going to court. This can be useful in maintaining good and productive relationships with your former partner in finding the best way to care for your child. 

Parenting Plans, however, can be less useful when it comes to less amicable relationships. Here, Parenting Orders can allow for a child’s welfare to be better protected, and help you feel more secure that the other party is fulfilling their responsibilities to care for the child. Parenting Orders are often useful if you have tried a Parenting Plan and found that you cannot trust your former partner to abide by it. 

Which One is Most Appropriate For Me?

Deciding whether to adopt a Parenting Plan or a Parenting Order can be a difficult decision depending on your situation. Furthermore, it is often useful to have someone assist your with the creation of whichever one you adopt to make sure that any agreement is clear and sets good expectations for both sides. If you are having trouble arranging for the care of a child you should speak to a lawyer to explore your options. Contact us via the form to find the most appropriate arrangement for your circumstances.

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