How you can best help your kids
Co-parenting works better for kids if you:
- live nearby to your former partner, in the same town or area
- 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
- avoid angry or hurtful comments about your former partner
What the law says about co-parenting
Australia's Family Law Act says both parents are responsible for the care and welfare of their children. The law presumes it's best for most children if both parents:
- share equal, parental responsibility
To find out about services to help families manage relationship issues, visit Family Relationships Online. They can also provide advice to helping families agree on care arrangements for children after parents separate.
Writing a parenting plan or consent order
For co-parenting to work, it's best to write a parenting plan. This is an agreement 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. However, 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 Western Australia) or email email@example.com for more information. In Western Australia, contact the Family Court of WA direct.
Child support payments
A binding child support agreement is an agreement between both parents about child support payments. It can be made through Services Australia for any amount that you both agree on. It might include cash payments or non-cash payments such as school fees. Each parent should get legal advice before entering into 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 of your 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
- a relationship or family counsellor
- a dispute resolution service
These options are cheaper, easier, and less stressful than going to court. You can 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. Before applying for a parenting order, you should attend family dispute resolution.
The main courts dealing with parenting orders or financial orders are the:
- Family Court of Australia
- Family Court of Western Australia
In rural areas, family disputes can be handled by local or magistrates' courts.
You can go straight to the Family Court for a parenting order (without first trying dispute resolution) if:
- your child might be at risk of abuse or domestic violence by your former partner
- you or your former partner cannot co-parent due to physical or mental illness
- you or your former partner cannot participate in co-parenting due to location
- the matter is very urgent
You can also go straight to court if your family dispute can't be solved, as:
- your former partner refuses to negotiate
- your former partner refuses to follow existing orders
Where can I get more information about co-parenting?
You can call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 for information and advice.
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Last reviewed: October 2022