A parenting order refers to a set of orders made by a court about parenting arrangements for a child after a hearing process.
Unless you already have dealings with the Family Court of Australia, you can apply to the Federal Circuit Court for parenting orders. The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are separate independent courts but share jurisdiction in all family law matters. The Family Court deals with more complex matters such as international child abduction and child sex abuse. All other cases including child support, should be filed in the Federal Court Circuit which deals with less complex matters that are likely to be decided quickly.
Parenting orders can be made in the short term during court proceedings (interim orders), and in the long term once a final decision has been made (final orders). Parenting orders are legally enforceable, and penalties can be imposed if they are not followed.
When an order is made, each person bound by the order must follow it, which means taking all reasonable steps to ensure that the order is put into effect.
Even if the needs and circumstances of you, your children or your ex-partner change, the order remains in force until a new parenting order or parenting plan changes it. Some community services can help you and your family adjust to and comply with court orders.
Parenting orders may cover any of the following issues:
- who the child will live with
- how much time the child will spend with each parent and with other people such as grandparents
- the allocation of parental responsibility
- how the child will communicate with a parent they do not live with, or
- any other aspect of the child’s care, welfare or development.
A parenting order can stipulate steps that both parties must follow before applying to a court to change an order. It can also state the process for resolving disputes that arise from the order. A parenting order may be altered if a parenting plan is agreed to by both parties in the future.
Who can apply for a parenting order?
Any of the following persons can apply for a parenting order for a child:
- child’s parents
- child’s grandparent
- any other person concerned with the child’s care, welfare and development.
The court process
- Once an Initiating Application for parenting orders is filed, it will be set down for hearing.
- The applicant will then have to serve (provide) a copy of the Initiating Application and supporting documents on the other parent and any other parties.
- Those other parties will have to provide their own formal written Response and file it with the court and serve them on other parties.
- At the first court hearing various procedural orders may be made, and all parties may be asked to meet with a family consultant.
- The court can also make interim orders regarding:
- where the child will live,
- the allocation of parental responsibility and
- whether the child will spend time with the other parent or any other persons before they make their final decision.
- In some cases the Court can appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer, who helps the court to decide what arrangements are in the children’s best interests see the Family Court of Australia’s web page on Independent Children’s Lawyers.
- There can be further hearings in the interim. Once all evidence that the parties intend to rely on has been obtained, then the parties will have to prepare for a final hearing.
- At the final hearing all parties and their witnesses will have to give evidence, before the Judge makes a final decision.
- Up until this point, the parties can still try to resolve the dispute by agreement and file consent orders.
- If consent orders are not reached, then the Judge that is appointed in their case will make the parenting orders that they believe are in the children’s best interests. This can mean that a parent will not necessarily be happy with the orders or decision made by the Judge.
Visit the Family Court of Australia website to find out more about the steps involved for court proceedings — but note that these may vary depending on your case.
What is a family consultant?
A family consultant is a psychologist and/or social worker who specialises in children and family issues, particularly after separation. They can help resolve your dispute, give advice and evidence to the court about your case, provide a written report on your family to the court, and give recommendations and advice about available services for families. They may interview the different parties and other significant people in the children’s lives; they may also talk to the children, and spend time with parents and children together. Anything said to a family consultant is not confidential and may be used in court at a later date.