Parenting Arrangements for Children

Following separation, parents need to determine and agree on the future living and other arrangements for their children. If, despite counselling they are unable to reach an agreement, parents may apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to determine parenting matters. In such cases, the paramount consideration is the best interests of the children. At all times parents are encouraged to try to look to a resolution of the proceedings that best meets the interests of the children.

Parenting issues can include a range of matters, such as:

  • who the children primarily live with
  • how much time the children spend with the other parent
  • arrangements for festive and special occasions
  • relocation of a child
  • overseas travel
  • international abduction of children

Anyone with a sufficiently close connection to and interest in a child may seek a parenting order. Grandparents often seek parenting orders following a breakdown of the relationship between their adult child and the other parent.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility refers to the duties, power, and authority that parents have in relation to their child. Under the Family Law Act 1975, there is a presumption that shared parental responsibility is best for the child, but this will not be the case in all situations. Shared parental responsibility means that parents are required to consult each other regarding long-term decisions for the child and does not necessarily mean that the child will spend equal time with each parent.

How are parenting arrangements made?

It is usually best if parents can come to an agreement between themselves about the ongoing care of their children. Parenting arrangements may be made informally, through a parenting plan or parenting orders. 

An informal arrangement is simply an agreement between the parties that is not documented. The risk with an informal agreement is that issues may arise if the parties no longer agree on the arrangement.

A parenting plan is a written document setting out the agreed arrangements between the parties concerning the care of their children. A parenting plan may be registered with the Court but is not legally enforceable.

Parenting orders are legally enforceable orders and may be made between the parties by consent and filed with the Court. Alternatively, when parties cannot agree on parenting arrangements, the Court will determine and make the parenting orders.

Court proceedings

In most cases, before applying to have a parenting matter determined by a Court, you will need to attend Family Dispute Resolution. If Family Dispute Resolution does not resolve your matter the Court will hear evidence and make orders in accordance with the best interests of the child.

The Court process can take some time and the Court may make interim orders (i.e., orders that stay in place until the final hearing of a matter).

In some circumstances the Court will appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) or order that a family report be prepared by a psychiatrist or psychologist. An ICL may be appointed in complex matters or matters involving allegations of abuse, neglect, family violence or mental health issues. The purpose of a family report is to address matters from an independent perspective and to propose arrangements that focus on the best interests and welfare of the child.

The best interests of the child are also reflected in the way proceedings are conducted. The impact that proceedings may have on a child is always considered and cooperation between the parents is fostered with as little formality during proceedings as possible.

International Child Abduction

If your child has been taken overseas without your permission, we can apply to the Court for urgent orders for the return of your child to Australia. We can also apply to have your child placed on the airport alert list if you are concerned that an attempt will be made to remove your child from Australia.

Many overseas countries are parties to international conventions whereby they respect and uphold the laws and orders of Australian Courts for the return of children to Australia. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention) provides a process for seeking the return of children who have been abducted either from or to Australia.

It is essential that parents seek legal advice promptly in these cases.


No two families are alike, and a relationship breakdown can be particularly challenging when there are children involved. We provide expert advice and representation for all family law children’s matters. We can also help if you are a grandparent or other family member seeking advice about the care of a child. We are professional, compassionate, and considerate and our early involvement and expertise can help you to navigate this complex area during a stressful time.

If you need assistance, contact us at [email protected] or call 02 6622 5566 for expert legal advice.