Parenting

Information about how to make parenting arrangements for your child when you separate.

  • Your safety is important

    Your safety is important

    If you feel unsafe or are experiencing any violence, contact the police, a domestic violence counsellor or get legal advice.

  • Changes to Family law Act commenced on 6 May

    Changes to Family law Act commenced on 6 May

    On the 6 May 2024, new laws commenced about parenting proceedings and how the Court makes parenting orders in the best interests of a child.

    These changes apply to all new and existing parenting proceedings, except where the final hearing had already begun.

    If you have parenting orders that were made before these changes, they will remain in force. You must continue to follow your orders. 

Parenting after separation

If you and your partner have separated, you will need to decide the parenting arrangements for your child.

The law does not tell you how to care for your child after separation. You and your ex-partner are responsible for deciding the parenting arrangements for your child, including:

  • where your child lives
  • where your child goes to school
  • what medical treatment your child receives.

You both have the responsibility to make decisions about any major issues or events regarding your child. You share this responsibility regardless of what type of relationship you were in, if at all. You can exercise this responsibility jointly or separately. 

If it is safe, you should consult with each other about these issues and make decisions that are in the best interests of your child.

Parental responsibility does not cover the day-to-day decisions about the care of your child, such as what your child wears and eats. The parent who is caring your child has the responsibility for making these decisions. You don’t have to consult with each other about these issues, however, you can if it will help you to carry out your parenting arrangements.

Sharing parental responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean you will spend equal time with your child, unless you agree to this, or a court orders it.

If it is safe to do so, you should try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner. This is the quickest and easiest way to make a parenting agreement.

If you can’t agree on the parenting arrangements for your child you will need to attend mediation before you can go to court. In some limited circumstances you may be able to go straight to court.

Before you apply for court orders you should get legal advice.

Making an agreement

If you and your ex-partner can agree on the parenting arrangements for your child, you don’t need to go to mediation or apply for court orders. You can make an informal agreement or a parenting plan.

If you want an agreement that is legally binding, you can apply for consent orders.

For more information, see Parenting agreements.

While you decide your parenting arrangements, you may also need to discuss child support.

For more information, see Child support.

Mediation

If you and your ex-partner can’t agree on the parenting arrangements for your child, you must take genuine steps to resolve your parenting dispute before you can apply for parenting orders.

You must:

  • attempt a type of mediation called Family Dispute Resolution, and
  • write to your ex-partner to identify the issues still in dispute, make a genuine attempt at resolving your dispute, and state the orders you will seek if you apply for parenting orders.

These steps are known as pre-action procedures.

In limited circumstances, you may be exempt from following the pre-action procedures where:

  • your matter is urgent
  • there has been, or there is a risk of, child abuse or family violence
  • you or your ex-partner cannot participate effectively in mediation
  • your ex-partner has breached a parenting order that was made within the last 12 months, and there are grounds to believe that your ex-partner has shown a serious disregard for their obligations under the order.

If you think you are exempt from the pre-action procedures, you should get legal advice.

For more information, see Mediation.

Going to court

If you and your ex-partner can’t decide on the parenting arrangements for your child, and you have followed the pre-action procedures, you can apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia or Local Court of NSW for parenting orders.

This is an option of ‘last resort’ as it is the most expensive, and time-consuming way to make parenting arrangements.

For more information, see Going to court.

Grandparents and extended family

Under the law, a child has a right to regularly spend time and communicate with people significant to their care, welfare, and development, such as grandparents, relatives and members of extended families.

Grandparents and a person concerned with the care, welfare and development of a child can apply for parenting orders, including an order to spend time with a child.

However, before you apply, you must follow the pre-action procedures unless you are exempt.

For more information, see Are you a grandparent? Your legal questions answered.

Parenting orders

You must follow your parenting orders while they are in force unless you have a reasonable excuse. If you don’t follow your parenting orders, and you don’t have a reasonable excuse, the other parent may apply to enforce the orders. You can be penalised by the Court for not following your parenting orders without a reasonable excuse. You must understand your obligations under your parenting orders.

For more information, see Parenting orders.

Changing your parenting arrangements

The easiest and cheapest way to change your parenting agreement is to negotiate a new agreement with your ex-partner, where it is safe for you to do so.

If you have an informal agreement or parenting plan, you can change it at any time by making a new agreement.

If you have parenting orders (including consent orders), you can also change your orders at any time by making a new agreement with your ex-partner, unless an order says otherwise. You can do this by:

  • making a parenting plan, or
  • applying for consent orders.

What type of agreement you should make will depend on your circumstances.

For more information, see Changing your parenting arrangements.

Enforcing your parenting arrangements

The steps you can take to enforce your parenting arrangements, will depend on what type of agreement you have.

If you have an informal agreement or parenting plan, you will need to arrange mediation to discuss any issues causing the other parent to breach your agreement. You may also need to negotiate a new parenting agreement if the existing agreement can no longer be followed.

If you have parenting orders, including consent orders, you may also have to attend mediation, unless you are exempt. If mediation is unsuccessful, or you are exempt, you may be able to apply to the Court to enforce your parenting orders.

For more information, see Enforcing your parenting arrangements.

Support services

Family counselling

There are a number of different counselling services available to families to help deal with the stress of separation, ongoing relationship issues and conflict between family members.

Family counselling is available to individuals, separated couples, parents and their children, and extended family members, for example grandparents.

The cost of family counselling varies depending on which service you use and your ability to pay. 

Family counselling is confidential. This means anything that is said, and any documents produced in counselling cannot be shared, except with the permission of the people who attended, or in limited circumstances to prevent a serious threat to someone’s life or a crime being committed.

For more information, see Counselling on the Family Relationships online website.

Parenting programs

Post separation parenting programs help parents to support their child through a family separation and manage their relationship with their former partner. They support parents to resolve parenting disputes peacefully and minimise conflict so that it doesn’t impact their child.

If you are involved in parenting proceedings, the Court may order you to attend a post separation parenting program.

To find your nearest program provider, see Find local help on the Family Relationships Online website.