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Dividing time between parents

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides for parties to enter into parenting orders. Parenting orders are a written legally binding document issued by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia which provides orders about parenting arrangements that each party must comply with.

How can I obtain a parenting order?

Parenting orders can be obtained either by consent between the parties, where the parties agree on a set of orders, or by a Judge handing down orders where the parties do not agree. Parties that agree to parenting orders are often not required to attend the court in person as the orders can be made in the chambers of the court. The benefit of this is that parties avoid the expense, delay and stress of having to attend the court and move through the court process.

Legal advice should be sought from an experienced family law solicitor before filing any application in court. There are also a number of support groups, including Relationships Australia and Dads in Distress.

What types of issues can a parenting order cover?

A parenting order (sometimes referred to as child custody orders) can cover the issues of parental responsibility (who makes and how they make decisions about the child), who the child lives with, what time the child spends with the parties, how the parties can communicate with each other about the child and other matters that may be relevant to the child. Section 60CA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration when making a parenting order.

Parenting orders may also include ancillary matters, such as preventing children from being removed to overseas jurisdictions. This is done by placing the name of the children onto the Australian Federal Police Airport Watch List.

Can't we just agree informally?

Parenting orders create a legally binding order that parties must adhere to. In circumstances where there are no parenting orders, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) presumes that both parents have parental responsibility for the child and thereby both parents hold equal power to make decisions about the child. Thereby a stalemate can easily arise when parents disagree about issues surrounding the child. Children may be unilaterally withheld from the other parent and, in the absence of enforceable orders, there will be no legal recourse to enforce the return of the child, save for commencing litigation. For this reason, we usually advise against reliance on informal agreements such as parenting plans.

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