A parenting plan is an informal written parenting agreement that includes parenting and care arrangements for children but has not been formally approved by the Federal Circuit and Family Court (FCFC). Parenting orders (or consent orders) are written parenting agreements that have been approved by the FCFC through an application made to the court. Parenting orders may also be made by the court after a hearing.

The pros and cons for both parenting plans and parenting orders are discussed below.

Parenting Plans

Sometimes former partners are able to reach an amicable agreement about arrangements for their children without the need to commence court proceedings. This agreement is usually referred to as a parenting plan. Provided the parenting plan clearly sets out the rights and obligations of each parent (or any other relevant person), is signed and dated by each person involved, it should generally be deemed as a sufficient parenting agreement.

A parenting plan can address issues such as:

  • who a child spends time and lives with;
  • the parental responsibility for a child;
  • arrangements for special days such as birthdays, religious, and other holidays;
  • procedures for making long-term decisions regarding the care, welfare, and development of the child.

As parenting plans are not legally binding, it is advisable to include procedures for varying the plan and the methods that can be used to resolve any disputes about the terms in the actual plan.

If you would like your parenting plan to be legally binding, you can file an Application for Parenting Orders with the FCFC. It is usually recommended you do this – although you may have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner, circumstances can change quickly (such as your ex-partner entering into a new relationship) which can affect your parenting plan.

Parenting Orders

A parenting order is a written agreement that has been approved by the FCFC through an application made to the court. The order covers parenting arrangements for children, and they are binding and enforceable.

The FCFC must be satisfied that the orders sought are in the best interests of a child before they are approved. Once the parenting orders have been approved by the court, they have the same legal standing as if they had been made by a court after a hearing.

If any party included in the parenting order breaches its terms, other parties stated in the orders are entitled to make a Contravention Application with respect to that breach, and the party in breach can be sanctioned by the FCFC.


Parenting orders and parenting plans both have their pros and cons. Although parenting plans are convenient and generally cheaper to draft than parenting orders, they are not legally enforceable by a court. This is why it is often recommended that an application be made to the court for parenting plans to adopt the status of parenting orders. This way, all parties to the parenting order will have legal protection if needed.

This article provides general information only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances. We always recommend you seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer before entering into any parenting agreement.

If you know someone who could benefit from this advice please suggest they contact us on 02 4322 0251 or email [email protected].