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Understanding Parenting Agreements and Family Court Consent Orders

When parents in Australia decide that separation or divorce is the best option for both parties, one of the major concerns is the management of parental responsibilities and rights. As we know, maintaining a healthy and safe family dynamic, even post-separation, is key in ensuring that children do not suffer from some of the lasting effects of divorce. In today’s article, we look at the two most common resolutions that arise in divorce cases -- parenting agreements and family court consent orders, so read on to find out more.

Parenting Agreements

As the name suggests, effective parenting agreements (also known as parenting plans) are when both parents of a child come to a mutual agreement on various parenting matters. In most cases, a parenting agreement is worked out between ex-partners, sometimes with the help of a counsellor or trusted friend/family member. It is important to note that a parenting agreement is not a legally binding contract and it does not get filed in Court. An agreement between parents can only be considered a parenting plan if it is made through the free will of parties involved and not on the basis of any threat, duress or coercion. Parenting plans have to be in writing (verbal agreements do not count), dated and be signed by each parent involved. Some of the matters that a parenting agreement features include:
  • Education / School
  • Childcare
  • Living arrangements
  • Religion
  • Healthcare
  • Finances
  • Emotional Support
Note: As children's needs change over time, parents may have to update their parenting agreement whenever necessary. Because a parenting order is not a legally binding document, breaking a parenting plan is not illegal. However, do note that the other parent involved has the right to take you to court should you fail to hold up to your end of the bargain.

Consent Orders

Whilst consent orders and parenting agreements are sometimes referred to as synonymous, the two can have quite different outcomes and will be applicable for different situations. Unlike parenting orders, which can be agreed upon, managed and discussed outside the Court system, consent orders are managed by the Family Court or F.C.C. and are enforceable by law. This can also be decided upon by the Court if the separating parties cannot agree on a resolution. Consent orders tend to be the most common method for separating parents to come to a formal agreement in Court. They are, however, often less detailed than parenting agreements, therefore making them less applicable in circumstances where more comprehensive agreements must be made. Elements agreed upon through consent orders include:
  • Visitation
  • Communication Methods
  • Education
  • Arrangements for Travel
  • Living Arrangements & Details
After you have submitted your certificate, the courts will then decide on the best solution pertaining to arrangements for your child based on his or her best interest and overall well being. Because a family court consent order is a legally binding document, failing to follow it is considered breaking the law and may result in a hefty penalty. __________ Understanding the differences between parenting agreements and family court consent orders is incredibly important as they will inevitably affect the future of your children and the overall family dynamic. If you require any advice or assistance on consent orders or a parenting plan, call Oxford Partners today at (03) 9670 7577.