The terminology can be confusing – what’s what? Here we outline the differences between parenting agreements, parenting plans, consent orders and court orders and highlight some points you may want to consider in determining what level of agreement will work best for your child/ren and for you as parents.
This is a written record of your agreement about matters relating to your children. A Parenting Agreement might include details such as, care and contact arrangements for your child/ren, how you will make decisions about, your child/ren’s, education, health, and activities they may take part in, how you will cover the costs of raising your child/ren, options to travel interstate/overseas and how you will make arrangements for these circumstances. There may be many other matters that are important to you to have documented in an agreement as well. You may make and document these points yourselves or work with a mediator to reach a documented mediated Parenting Agreement. A mediated Parenting Agreement with a mediator (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner – FDRP), can be helpful when parties find it difficult to communicate directly with each other and/or they need guidance in making child focussed, age appropriate decisions. A Parenting Agreement is not a legal document, it is equivalent to a good faith or handshake agreement - it is not legally enforceable. Many parents will find this type of agreement works well enough for them and they may update it themselves from time to time as necessary.
This is also a written record of your parenting agreement and can contain all the same information that is contained in a Parenting Agreement. A Parenting Plan is not legally enforceable either however, if both parents sign and date the document, the Australian Family Law Act recognises the document as admissible as evidence in court if your matter were to proceed along a legal pathway. A Parenting Plan “may” be considered and referred to by a magistrate if they are required to make a judgement on your matter, as a Parenting Plan is considered a reflection of your “intent” as parents to certain decisions you have made and agreed to about your child/ren.
This is a legal contract between parents about matters relating to their children. A Consent Order is an extension of a Parenting Agreement/Plan and takes the agreements made between parents and converts them to a contract. A Consent Order is referred to as such because the parties have agreed to or “consented” to the details. Parties can make the agreements in a Consent Order themselves or may choose to have the assistance of a mediator (FDRP) for support and guidance in making child focussed agreements and/or assist negotiations where communication has broken down or is difficult between the parties. You do not need to go to court to have your Parenting Agreement/Plan converted to a Consent Order. You can make an application for Consent Orders via the Family Court of Australia website or through a solicitor. A Consent Order is a contract therefore we would always recommend legal advice before entering into a Consent Order – if you break the Order there can be penalties for either parent.
These are similar to Consent Orders, however in this case parents will have a judge determine the details of their Order. All parties wishing to come to a resolution about parenting matters are obliged, if they can’t come to agreements themselves, to try mediation (family dispute resolution) first, before they take their matter to court to obtain Court Orders. There are circumstances whereby parties can bypass this step and go straight to court to obtain Court Orders. Consent Orders and Court Orders carry the same weight, they are both legally enforceable and both can carry penalties if not followed.
What is Right For You:
It is always a good idea to get some legal advice about which level of agreement you need in place, particularly if you are intending to formalise any agreement/plan into an Order. You may find that if you have an amicable relationship with the other parent and you are flexible and can accommodate not only changes to your children’s needs but also for the other parent that a Parenting Agreement works well. Parenting Plans can give a certain level of comfort for some parents, they are not a contract but parents know that they can be used as evidence in court if necessary and sometimes help to keep parents “true” to the agreement. Consent Orders are sometimes required where there is a history of broken agreements, there is little trust between parents and parents and children need greater security and certainty about the future. Consent Order however can sometimes encourage rigidity and discourage flexibility with parties focussing less on the changing needs of their children and more on what is “right” in terms of a contract. Court Orders have the same characteristics as Consent Orders, they become necessary where parties are unable to successfully negotiate between themselves or features of their parental relationship or their personal situations mean that a legal perspective is required. Court Orders remove a parent’s opportunity to have input into the final outcome, unlike Consent Orders.
If you or someone you know finds themselves in conflict with their ex about children’s matters and would like help to navigate through family mediation or would like more information, please contact Latoya Percival or Anna Oxford at www.xpmediators.com