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Parenting Order Vs Parenting Plan (What Is the Right Choice for Your Children?)

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Establishing proper co-parenting arrangements is essential when couples separate. Parents have different options for handling parenting matters. Parenting plans are a flexible but informal option. Parenting orders offer legally binding and stable arrangements for children. Which is the right option for you?

This article will explore the implications of all options so you can decide which is right for you.

Key Insights

  1. Parenting plans offer a flexible, cost-effective option for co-parenting arrangements. They allow parents to tailor details to their family’s unique needs without being legally enforced.

  2. Parenting orders offer a legally binding solution, ensuring stability and enforceability for parenting arrangements, particularly in challenging agreement situations.

  3. Key considerations for any co-parenting agreement include living arrangements, communication, healthcare, education, and the handling of special occasions.

  4. The process for establishing parenting orders involves consent orders, court orders, mediation, and possibly a final hearing to ensure decisions are in the child’s best interests.

  5. When choosing a co-parenting arrangement, consider your family’s needs, be flexible, prioritise legal security, and focus on the best interests of your child.

Parenting plans

A parenting plan is an informal written agreement between parents. It defines parental responsibility. An effective parenting plan should cover as much detail of your co-parenting arrangements as possible.

Parenting plan coverage

The factors a parenting plan covers many factors, including the following:

1. Living Arrangements

This includes details about whom the children will live with and how they will split their time between parents. It can also cover special arrangements for holidays, birthdays, and other significant events.

2. Communication

The plan outlines how the children will communicate with the parents they are not currently living with. It may include details about the frequency and methods of communication (e.g., phone calls, video chats).

3. Health and Medical Care

Parents can make decisions about their children’s health, including medical treatment, healthcare providers, and how to handle health emergencies.

4. Education and Schooling

The plan can address aspects of the children’s education. This includes the choice of school, parent-teacher meetings, and participation in school-related activities.

5. Religion and Cultural Upbringing

The plan might outline how the children will be raised in terms of religious practices, cultural heritage, and participation in cultural events.

6. Decision-Making

The plan should specify how parents will make significant decisions affecting their children. These can include those related to education, health, and religion.

7. Dispute Resolution

It’s common to include a process for resolving disagreements that may arise. Consider how to resolve conflicts about the parenting plan or the children’s upbringing.

8. Changes to the Plan

The plan might include provisions for reviewing and modifying the arrangements. This can be crucial as the children grow and circumstances change.

9. Travel and Relocation

You can include details about domestic and international travel, including the process for obtaining consent and handling passports. Also, guidelines should be considered for the potential relocation of one parent.

9. Special Occasions

Consider arrangements for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Specify arrangements to ensure clarity and fairness.

10. Extra-curricular Activities

The plan may outline decisions about the children’s participation in extra-curricular activities. This can include who will be responsible for transportation and attendance at events.

a parenting plan with daughter

Pros and cons

Parenting plans have benefits and drawbacks depending on your circumstances. Here are some pros and cons co-parents typically have.


  • Flexibility. Informal plans allow parents to adapt quickly to changes in circumstances without legal modifications. This flexibility can be beneficial in accommodating the evolving needs of children and parents.

  • Personalisation. Parents can tailor the agreement to fit their unique family situation, parenting styles, and the needs of their children. It avoids the constraints of legal formalities.

  • Cost-Effective. Avoiding the legal system can save parents significant amounts of money in legal fees and court costs.


  • Lack of Legal Enforceability. Without legal enforceability, if one parent does not adhere to the agreement, the other parent has limited recourse. This can lead to difficulties in ensuring compliance with the agreed-upon terms.

  • Potential for Misunderstanding. Informal agreements may be misinterpreted or misunderstood without a legal document’s clarity. This can lead to disputes.

  • Impact on Children. Informal plans can break down due to a lack of compliance or disputes. The resulting conflict can negatively impact children.

Parenting orders

A parenting order is a legally enforceable agreement made through the Family Court. Parenting orders can be pursued through agreement or to resolve an impasse.

Consent orders

Co-parents can apply for consent orders if they agree to organise parenting arrangements. The Court considers specific factors when assessing a parenting consent order. The Court’s determination is guided solely by what it believes is in the child’s best interests.

Primary considerations

  • The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents.

  • The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm. The child mustn’t be subjected or exposed to abuse, neglect, or family violence.

Additional considerations

  • The child’s views and opinions, considering their age and maturity.

  • The child’s relationship with each parent and other significant individuals (e.g., grandparents).

  • The likely effect of any changes in the child’s circumstances. This may include the impact of separation from either parent or any other significant individual.

  • The capacity of each parent (or other relevant individuals) to provide for the child’s needs. Needs include emotional and intellectual needs.

  • Any history of family violence or abuse.

  • The extent to which each parent has fulfilled their parental obligations, particularly in spending time with the child and being involved in their life.

  • The effect of any proposed parenting order on the child’s circumstances.

  • Any family violence orders that apply to the child or a member of the child’s family.

  • Any other factor the court considers relevant.

family law court proceedings

Court orders

Sometimes, parents aren’t able to agree on parenting arrangements. To settle this conflict in the child’s best interests, the parties can appeal to the Court to make orders.

1. Mediation

Parents are generally required to attempt family dispute resolution (FDR) before applying. A family dispute resolution practitioner helps separated parents agree about parenting arrangements. A certificate from an accredited FDR practitioner is usually needed to show that an attempt at resolution was made. This is known as a Section 60I certificate.

2. Court application

If FDR is unsuccessful or deemed inappropriate (e.g., in cases of family violence or child abuse), parents can file for parenting orders. The application should detail the proposed arrangements and the reasons for the request.

3. Serving the Application

The applicant must serve the other parent (the respondent) with the court documents. This ensures they are aware of the application and can respond. The respondent can outline their position and proposals they have.

4. Interim Orders

If immediate decisions are needed (for example, where a child’s safety is a concern), either parent can apply for interim orders. These are temporary orders that apply until the final hearing.

5. Final Hearing

If the parents cannot agree, the case will proceed to a final hearing. During this hearing, evidence is presented, and both parties (and their legal representatives) can make their case. The court considers all evidence, testimonies, and other relevant information.

After considering all the evidence, the Court decides based on the child’s best interests. The Court’s primary consideration is the child’s welfare. It will make orders that reflect this principle.

parenting order


There are various ways to organise parenting arrangements. Informal parenting plans are flexible and straightforward but don’t provide legal security. Parenting orders can be pursued by agreement or to resolve a conflict. Their legal enforceability can give parents stability and peace of mind.

It’s vital to seek legal advice before entering any parenting agreement. Contact us today for assistance with your parenting matters.

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Rowena Ferrall


Rowena Ferrall is the principal lawyer of Ferrall & Co. Lawyers, which was established in 2017. The firm specialises in family law, domestic violence and criminal defence.

Rowena is licensed to practice in Queensland and the High Court of Australia. Her approach combines legal expertise with compassion, ensuring clients receive the right advice and emotional support. She’s an active member of several law associations and supports various charities. Contact Rowena for more information.

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