Co-parenting is when you and your former partner share in raising your children after a divorce or breakup. It means both parents have a hands-on role in raising the kids. When both parents co-operate and share responsibilities, kids do best.
How you can best help your kids
Co-parenting works better for kids if you:
- live close by in the same town or area
- avoid angry or hurtful comments about your former partner
- are consistent about rules and rewards
- plan ahead for activities, holidays and special events, such as birthdays
- respect your child's right to form a relationship with the other parent that is free of your influence
What the law says about co-parenting
Australia's Family Law Act says both parents are responsible for the care and welfare of children up to the age of 18. The law presumes it's best for most children if both parents co-operate and share equal, parental responsibility.
To find out about a range of services to assist families manage relationship issues, including helping families agree on arrangements for children after parents separate, visit Family Relationships Online.
Writing a parenting plan or consent order
For co-parenting to work, it's best to write a parenting plan. This is an agreement, made between you and your former partner. It doesn't involve going to court.
The parenting plan details:
- how you will share parenting responsibilities
- who the kids will live with
- the amount of time to be spent with each parent
- holidays and special events
- decision-making guidelines
- health care
- financial care
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable. If you want a legally binding document, you and your former partner can prepare a written consent order. This is similar to a parenting plan. It covers parenting and financial arrangements for your kids, but it's enforceable by the Courts. A consent order needs to be approved by the Court, but neither parent needs to attend court. Contact the Family Law National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000 (apart from WA) or email email@example.com for more information.
Child support payments
A binding child support agreement is an agreement between both parents about child support payments. It can be made for any amount that both parents agree on. It might include cash payments or non-cash payments such as school fees. Each parent will need to get legal advice before entering the agreement.
You can also apply for a child support assessment. This tells you how much child support you should pay or receive. It's based on both parents' incomes and family circumstances.
Family relationship centres
If you can't agree on a parenting plan, you can get help from a:
- family relationship centre
- relationship or family counselor
- dispute resolution service
These options are cheaper, easier and less stressful than going to court. Call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 for information.
The next step is to seek legal advice and get a 'court parenting order' or a 'financial order'. This is a plan made for you by the courts. You will probably need to go to family dispute resolution or mediation before you can apply for a parenting order.
The main courts dealing with parenting orders or financial orders are the Family Court of Australia, the Family Court of Western Australia and, in rural areas, magistrates' courts.
You can go straight to the Family Court for a parenting order (without first trying dispute resolution) if:
- your child might be abused by your former partner
- your child might be physically harmed by your former partner
- the matter is very urgent
- the matter can't be solved (for example, your former partner refuses to negotiate)
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Last reviewed: June 2020