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I drew up a parenting plan setting out how my partner and I will share care of the kids. Is this sufficient?
A parenting plan is not legally binding. If you and your partner have come to some sort of informal parenting arrangement between yourselves, this is a positive start.
In some cases, both parties are amicable and can make an informal arrangement work well. However, in numerous cases something can go wrong. For example, one party may want to move away, get re-partnered or enter into a new work roster, meaning that they may want to change the agreement you have reached.
The best way to protect the interests of yourself and your children going forward is to convert this informal agreement into a formal agreement, known as consent orders.
What are consent orders?
Consent orders are a written agreement that must be approved by the Family Court of Western Australia. They are used when you have reached an agreement and want the court to turn it into formal orders, but don’t need the court to make the decisions for you.
When the consent orders are made and approved, they have the same effect as a court order made by a judicial officer after a court hearing.
How do I know if the court will approve the consent orders my partner and I have come up with?
Before the court will approve consent orders about your parenting agreement, it will scrutinize the orders to see if the arrangements are in the best interests of the children.
What constitutes the children’s ‘best interests’ is quite broad. There are two primary considerations and a long list of additional considerations that the court will take into account.
The primary considerations are:
- The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and
- The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
The additional considerations can be found here.
Can I vary the consent orders?
Consent orders can be drafted in such a way to allow some flexibility if appropriate. If substantial changes need to be made to the existing consent orders, an application to the court will need to be made with the new proposed orders.
What is parental responsibility?
The term parental responsibility refers to decision-making about major long-term issues affecting a child, such as where a child goes to school, their health issues, their name, and their religious and cultural upbringing.
In most cases, the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility applies. This means that unless the court has a significant reason to the contrary, such as the presence of family violence or child abuse, both parents should participate in decision-making about these major long-term issues.
I can’t come to an agreement with the other parent. Now what?
Most parents who can’t agree on parenting arrangements have to attend a type of mediation called family dispute resolution. Family dispute resolution is conducted by trained family dispute resolution practitioners. These practitioners are there to facilitate you and your partner coming to an agreement and hopefully avoiding the court process.
Unless you are eligible to be exempt from mediation, for reasons such as urgency, child abuse or family violence, you are required to have a family dispute resolution certificate before you can apply for parenting orders in the Family Court. If you are able to reach an agreement in family dispute resolution, then you can convert this into either a parenting plan or consent orders.
Find a family dispute resolution practitioner near you here.
If an agreement still can’t be reached, the last resort is to apply to the Family Court of Western Australia for parenting orders. It is possible to represent yourself in court, but legal advice is certainly recommended.
How much child support am I entitled to?
Child support is based on the number of nights per year that each parent has with the child and the income and financial circumstances of each parent.
The amount of child support you will either be entitled to or need to pay can be calculated online on the Department of Human Services website.
More information can be found here.
I have a child support assessment in place. Does my partner have to pay any other expenses related to the children?
No, the only thing that the other parent is legally obliged to pay is child support. If you want other expenses to be included in a legally binding agreement, such as school fees, fees for extra-curricular activities, and private health insurance, these need to be included in a separate document called a ‘binding child support agreement’.
Get in touch with our team of family lawyers if you would like to find out more about binding child support agreements.