Parenting arrangements can be a challenging aspect of a separation or divorce, especially if both parents are unable to agree. In these cases, it is important to explore the options available to resolve conflicts in attempt to establish a clear framework for co-parenting. 

We’ll look at the intricacies of parenting plans and consent orders in Australia, highlighting their differences, advantages, and potential challenges, and suggest some strategies for dealing with an uncooperative co-parent.

What happens if my ex-partner and I can't agree on parenting orders?

Working with a Family Lawyer may be necessary when parents can’t agree on parenting arrangements. A Family Law Practitioner can help you to negotiate parenting arrangements through mediation or dispute resolution methods. 

Obtaining Consent Orders through the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (“FCFCOA”) may also be required, but this will only be necessary in some cases. The Court has the authority to make decisions regarding children's living arrangements, communication with both parents and other crucial aspects of their upbringing. 

Mediation is often the first step in attempting to reach an agreement, but if it fails, the Court can intervene to establish parenting orders that prioritise the best interests of the child.

What is the difference between a Consent Order and a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a written agreement outlining the arrangements made for your children. It is an informal method that works well for many people as a guideline to both parties' responsibilities. It doesn’t require Court approval, unlike Consent Orders. 

It should contain clear information about the responsibilities and rights of each party involved. Each will be different, but they generally outline changeover frequency, times, health and education arrangements, financial considerations and a schedule for holidays and special occasions. It is deemed acceptable as long as it is signed and dated by all parties.

A consent order, also known as a parenting order, is a legally binding document approved by the Court. It sets out agreed-upon parenting arrangements, including time spent with each parent, and decision-making responsibilities. There can be consequences if either parent defaults on their side of the agreement.

Parenting Plans are not legally enforceable, but they are a great way of creating a clear roadmap for shared parenting. It is wise to have your family lawyer review your Parenting Plan before you sign.

How do I get a Consent Order in Australia?

If you and your co parent have reached agreement and would prefer to have legally enforceable Orders as opposed to a Parenting Plan, you can make an Application for Consent Orders to the FCFCOA. 

To obtain a Consent Order, both parents must agree on the proposed arrangements and submit the agreement to the court for review (in the form of proposed Orders). The court assesses whether the proposed Orders are in the child's best interests. If approved, the Consent Orders will be sealed and both parties must abide by the terms.

What are the disadvantages of Parenting Plans?

While Parenting Plans can be a flexible and less costly method to establish parenting arrangements, they are not legally binding, which means the Court cannot enforce them. Parents may need to seek legal assistance to address the issue in cases of non-compliance. 

How do you deal with an uncooperative co-parent?

Dealing with an uncooperative co-parent can be emotionally challenging, but there are strategies to help navigate such situations. Open and respectful communication remains vital. 

Stick to constructive dialogue, focusing on the child's best interests. If this isn’t possible, a Family Lawyer can assist you in negotiating with your ex-partner.

Seeking assistance from a family dispute resolution practitioner or engaging in mediation is the most common way to reach an agreement. Before mediation, have a clear idea of what works for you, what is fair to the other parent, and most of all, what the best interests of your child, or children are. Documenting incidents and keeping records can also be helpful if further legal intervention becomes necessary. Ultimately, prioritising the child's wellbeing and seeking professional advice can lead to more positive outcomes.

Resolving parenting disputes requires careful consideration and understanding of the legal options available. While consent orders provide a legally binding framework for co-parenting, parenting plans can be valuable for promoting cooperation and flexibility. It is essential to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and choose the one that best suits your situation.