Firstly, well done! It can often be a difficult and drawn out process to agree on parenting arrangements for children.
While you don’t have to, we recommend that the next step is to have the agreement documented so both parties are clear on what the arrangements are and what is expected. This can be done in two ways:
- Parenting Plan; or
- Consent Orders.
A Parenting Plan is a cheap and informal way to document the arrangements. A Parenting Plan is a written agreement which sets out things such as who the child lives with, the time the child spends with the other parent and parental responsibility. Parenting Plans are flexible and can be varied as required. The Parenting Plan is signed and dated by both parents. You do not need legal representation and you do not need to go to court.
One important limitation is that a Parenting Plan is not enforceable by a court. Therefore, if one party does not comply with the Parenting Plan (such as, not returning the children on a certain day), you cannot commence court proceedings for breach of the agreement.
In our opinion, the best way to document your agreement is by Consent Orders which are filed with the Family Court. Like a Parenting Plan, the Consent Orders set out things such as who the child lives with, the time the child spends with the other parent and parental responsibility. The Consent Orders are signed and dated by both parents (and lawyers, if applicable) and are filed with the Court. No one will need to attend the Court for the making of the Orders.
There are two important differences between Consent Orders and a Parenting Plan. Firstly, once made, Consent Orders are binding on both parties. This means that any breach of the Orders may result in contravention proceedings before the Court. Secondly, Consent Orders are final. They will be in place until the children reach 18 years and will only be changed where there is a significant change in circumstances, or by agreement.
There are important considerations regarding both documents and we encourage you to get legal advice prior to signing any document setting out children’s arrangements.