If you can’t agree on arrangements
Parental responsibility and parenting orders
The Family Law Act makes it clear that each parent has parental responsibility for each of their children until aged 18. Parental responsibility is not affected by changes in the parents' relationship; for example, if you separate or remarry.
Courts make orders about parental responsibilities only if the parents cannot agree about the arrangements for their children. Courts can also approve and make consent orders to reflect an agreement reached between parties at any time during the court process. Each of these types of orders are known as parenting orders.
For more information about the law and courts’ responsibilities under the law, read the best interests of a child by going to the Family Law Principles section of this website.
Before you apply to a court
You must make a genuine effort to resolve the matter by family dispute resolution.
Changes have been made to the family law system to encourage parents to develop cooperative parenting solutions without going to court. Family dispute resolution is a practical way for separating families to try to resolve any disagreements and make arrangements for the future.
If your application is an application for a parenting order, then you must provide a certificate with your application to the Court. This requirement applies even if you have preexisting orders in relation to the child that is the subject of the current application.
A court will not be able to hear an application for a parenting order unless a certificate from an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner is filed with the application.
In certain circumstances the court may grant you an exemption from the requirement to file a certificate.
For more information about compulsory family dispute resolution (or to find a family dispute resolution service provider in your local area) call the Family Relationships Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or go to www.familyrelationships.gov.au.
For more information about filing an application with the Court, call the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.
What orders can you apply for?
Section 64B of the Family Law Act sets out that a parenting order may deal with one or more of the following:
- the person or people with whom a child is to live
- the time a child is to spend with another person or other persons
- the allocation of parental responsibility for a child and, if two or more people are to share parental responsibility for a child, how they are to consult with one another about decisions to be made in the exercise of that responsibility
- how the child will communicate with another person or other persons
- child maintenance (providing for the financial support of a child who is not subject to the provisions of the Child Support Assessment Act)
- the steps to be taken before an application is made to a court for a variation of the order (to take account of the changing needs or circumstances of a child or the parties)
- the process to be used for resolving disputes about the terms or operation of the order, and
- any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.
You should read Section 64B for the full detail, including the meaning of ‘person’ or ‘persons’ – it may mean either parent and other people, such as a grandparent or other relative of the child.
Who can apply for a parenting order?
A parenting order may be applied for by:
- either or both parents of the child
- the child
- a grandparent, or
- any other person concerned with the care, welfare or development of the child.
When can you apply for a parenting order?
You may apply for a parenting order only after you have attempted to resolve the matter with the other parent or parents, either on your own or with assistance. See the information earlier on this page under the heading 'What you must do before you apply to the Court?' about the requirements for parties to use dispute resolution services in disputes about children.
If you are unable to resolve the matter (or an exception applies to you), you can seek parenting orders from a court.
You should get legal advice before deciding what to do. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities, and explain how the law applies to your case. A lawyer can also help you reach an agreement with the other party without having to go to court.
How do you apply for a parenting order?
You can apply to the Court most appropriate for your case.
The Family Law Courts comprise the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia. The courts share jurisdiction in all family law matters and you can apply to either court.
The Family Court deals with more complex matters. These may include, for example if the children’s issues in your case involve a child welfare agency and/or allegations of serious sexual abuse (Magellan cases), severe family violence or mental health issues, international child abduction under the Hague Convention or special medical procedures.
All other applications should be filed in the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court deals with less complex matters that are likely to be decided quickly.
You may prefer to seek legal advice before choosing the court in which to file your application.
The forms you must use and the processes you must follow depend on which court you apply to; the courts have different application forms and different requirements associated with filing an application. For further information go to the Forms section of this website, call 1300 352 000 or visit a family law registry near you.
If the matter is urgent (for example if you seek a recovery order), you may need to seek an urgent interim hearing.
If there are existing orders, you should read the related information as there are extra things you may need to do. Follow the above left link at 'In this section' to the page titled 'Applying to change an existing order'.
For a copy of the Attorney-General's fact sheet 'Parenting plans' visit Family Relationships Online.
Is there a filing fee for parenting order applications?
Yes. Information on the filing fees is available under the Fees section of this website.
What happens when you apply for a parenting order?
When you apply to the Family Law Courts for parenting orders, you will be advised about the events that you will need to attend before your application is determined by a judge. The case management process will be different in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.Back to top