A Parenting Plan is an agreement between parents of a child (or children), in writing and signed, setting out the terms regarding the care and welfare of the party’s children. Parenting Plans generally deal with the living arrangements of the children, time the children are to spend with the other parent, day-to-day life organisation and decision making in respect of the important long-term issues such as schooling, religion, change of names etc.
Parenting Plans are a good option for parents who are amicable, as parenting plans do not have to be approved by the court, meaning that there is no filing fee. Parenting Plans are flexible and can be changed by the parties at any point, subject to a written agreement between them.
However, Parenting Plans are not binding and enforceable. Therefore, if you suspect the other parent may fail to comply with the terms of the Parenting Plan in the future, this may not be a good option for you. However, if you do enter into a Parenting Plan and are required to commence Court proceedings at a later date, the Family Court must have regard to the terms of a Parenting Plan when considering what further Orders to make.
Consent Orders in Respect of Parenting Arrangements
Similarly to Parenting Plans, a Consent Order is a written agreement between parents in relation to the care and welfare of their children, but an important difference is that Consent Orders are approved by the Family Court and therefore, legally binding and enforceable. This means that if a parent contravenes an Order with no reasonable excuse, the Court may apply penalties against that parent for the breaches. The penalties may not be serious, for example, the Court may order the parent who failed to facilitate the other parent’s time with the children to compensate the time lost. However, for more serious breaches, the Court may even impose a prison sentence.
Therefore, if you and the other parent have agreed on certain terms regarding the care of your children, but you suspect the other parent may not honour those terms, you should consider applying to the Family Court for Consent Orders.
If you and the other parent already have a Parenting Plan but are thinking about commencing court proceedings, you should know that even though the Family Court is obliged to consider the terms of the existing Parenting Plan, the Court is not bound by its terms when making Orders and can make other Orders if considers they are in the best interest of the children.
What to do?
As noted above, parenting plans are great if you believe the other parent will be compliant with the agreed terms – it is flexible, easy, and quick. On the other hand, if the other parent refuses to comply with the existing Parenting Plan, there is no way you can enforce it. Consent Orders may be more expensive (filing fee payable to the Family Court for same is $160) and not as flexible and accordingly, negotiations and finalisation of a Consent Order between the parties can take more time. However, once approved by the Court, the terms are binding for the parties and can only be changed by a subsequent application to the Court to vary the Order, or by a subsequent Parenting Plan (which would again be unenforceable).
Regardless of whether you are considering obtaining a Parenting Plan or a Consent Order, you should first talk with a family law practitioner. We at Perth Family Lawyers can discuss your situation, and provide you with a legal advice as to what would likely work best for you. As every family matter is different, it is important to obtain professional legal opinion before taking further steps in either direction.
If you want to know more about Parenting Plans and Consent Orders, or if you wish to discuss your family law matter in general, you should call Perth Family Lawyers on (08) 9325 8675. Perth Family Lawyers offer a fixed price initial consultation, so call us today to arrange a time to speak with one of our experienced solicitors.