Family Court of Western Australia

Types of Parenting Orders

When you are making the arrangements for your child, you will have to specify what they will be. This is the case if you are making a parenting plan, applying for consent orders or applying for parenting orders.

You can allocate responsibility for making decisions about major long-term issues in relation to your child. Specific behaviours are usually addressed, such as the times when a parent will pick up a child from school, or whether a parent may take a child overseas for a holiday. A parenting order could also prohibit a parent from a specific behaviour, such as denigrating or criticising the other parent when talking to the child, or, in situations where there is a history of violence, from going to the other parent’s home without an invitation.

There are limits to what a parenting order can include. For example, a court cannot make an order for someone to be tactful or generous.

The Family Law Act gives guidance on the topics a parenting order may deal with:

  • who the child can live with – ‘live with’ orders
  • the time the child can spend with each parent (and sometimes others such as grandparents) - ‘time with’ orders
  • decision-making powers between the parents (and sometimes others) about the child - ‘parental responsibility’ orders
  • the communication the child is to have with each parent (and sometimes others) – ‘communication orders’
  • other parenting orders deal with:
    • the form of consultation between the parents: how they are going to make decisions together, either verbally or in writing
    • the steps to be taken before applying for an order that varies the existing parenting orders
    • the process to be used for resolving disputes about the terms or operation of parenting orders, and
    • any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child, or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

Topics parenting orders can cover

Parenting orders can cover one or two topics, or an extensive list - there is no requirement to deal with any particular matters.

When choosing the topics to be covered, parents may find it helpful to consider:

  • the problems that are likely to arise following family separation
  • which of those problems should be addressed in the parenting orders.

Some of the topics that could be covered in parenting orders are outlined below.

For example parenting orders, see the Attorney General’s publication Parenting Orders – what you need to know and the examples of parenting orders page.

Living arrangements

Living arrangements will normally specify when the child is to be with one parent or the other. Often it will be convenient to set out arrangements for each week, or each fortnight. In practice, the parent with whom the child is living or spending time will normally be the one who looks after the child for that period.

Special occasions

It is common for parenting orders to set out arrangements for special occasions, such as Christmas, religious holidays and birthdays. Typically, the orders will make some provision for the child to spend time with each parent on the child’s birthday, and with a parent on a parent’s birthday.

Changeovers

It is recommended that parenting orders deal with changeover arrangements - ie how the child is to get from one parent to another. When relationships between the parents are difficult, it is often a good idea to make arrangements that do not involve the parents meeting each other.

Taking care of the child

Sometimes, issues arise between parents about matters relating to the care of the child. For example, parents may disagree about whether a young child should be allowed to catch public transport on their own, or one parent may be concerned about the other’s behaviour, particularly in relation to drugs or alcohol. Such matters can be included in parenting orders.

Communication with the child

Parenting orders can deal with the way the child is to communicate with parents, or other people. For example, when the child is with one parent, arrangements could be made for the child to speak with the other parent at a particular time of day by telephone or other means.

When a parent is unavailable

Parents may wish to include provisions for what should happen if a parent is unexpectedly unable to look after the child. The most sensible response would often be to contact the other parent and discuss the arrangements that are best for the child at that particular time. Or the orders might specify that each parent is to give the other at least 24 hours’ notice if they are going to be unavailable to care for the child, or that the child can be cared for by a relative.

The child and other people

Parenting orders can deal with aspects of the child’s relationship with other people. For example, the child could spend time with a grandparent on the child’s birthday or the grandparent’s birthday, or the child could go on holidays with cousins or other family members. Parenting orders could also provide that the child is not to be left alone with a particular person.

Parents' behaviour with the child

Sometimes parents are concerned about how the other parent might behave with the child. Parenting orders can set out the sort of behaviour that should be avoided by the parent having the child. An example of this is when a parent may say adverse things to the child about the other parent - such ‘non-denigration’ orders are quite common.

It is important to consider whether there is a need to have such legally enforceable orders and whether issues like this are better resolved by negotiation, counselling or a parenting plan.

Interstate and international travel

Parenting orders can also be used in relation to the child being taken out of the home state or territory, or out of Australia. Importantly, it is only in limited special circumstances that child passports can be issued without full parental consent.

To avoid delays or failure to obtain child passports, parenting orders could deal specifically with passport arrangements. The parenting orders could deal with who needs to consent to a child’s passport, or who should hold the child’s passport. They can also provide that a parent must give the other parent a period of notice before taking the child overseas or interstate. Alternatively, the orders could provide that neither parent will take the child overseas without the consent of the other parent.

It is important to note that even if there is no specific parenting order dealing with international travel, when parenting orders are in place or parenting proceedings are pending it is an offence for a parent to take the child out of Australia without the other parent’s consent or the court’s permission.

In cases where one parent fears that a child will be taken out of the country, urgent legal advice should be obtained. One of the options available might be to have the child’s name placed on the Family Law Watchlist for international departures, both air and sea.

Also see the relocating children page for other relevant information.

Medical care

In many cases, issues about health care can be handled by the parents without the need for parenting orders. However, there may be instances in which parenting orders could be useful. Examples of this include when parents take different approaches to health issues, how one parent will communicate with the other if the child is sick, and issues relating to immunisation. Covering this topic may also be worth considering if a child has a special medical condition.

Different arrangements for different children

Where there are two or more children in the family, it is often appropriate to keep them together. In some circumstances though, it is best to make different arrangements for each child. While loving both parents, sometimes children form a particular attachment to one or the other. For these and other reasons, parenting orders sometimes make different arrangements for each child.

Education and extra-curricular activities

Parenting orders can deal with issues relating to a child’s education, such as which school the child should attend. Other issues to be addressed could include:

  • whether school reports are to be sent to one or both parents
  • who will attend parent teacher evenings and school events – and any arrangements that need to be made to prevent both parents being there at the same time
  • which parent the school should contact in the event of an emergency
  • any extra-curricular activities the child will attend, and whether one or both parents will be involved.

Communicating about the child

Parenting orders may have to be reconsidered from time to time, especially as the child grows and their needs change. While it can sometimes be uncomfortable for parents to communicate, they will often need to do so for the sake of the child. This could be included in the parenting orders by setting up a regime for future discussions and an agreed way of handling disputes, such as consulting a counsellor or mediator (family dispute resolution practitioner).

More information

You may find the following resources useful:


Last updated: 1-Jun-2018

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