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Parenting Orders vs Parenting Plans - What's the Difference?

Whilst a parenting plan is a written agreement setting out the parenting arrangements for children, it is generally regarded as an “informal arrangement”. This is because it can be easily changed or varied, and critically, it is not a legally enforceable agreement. Some people prefer to have the flexibility afforded by parenting plans so that they can easily review how the arrangements are working and make adjustments as needs arise.

A parenting order on the other hand is made by the Court, often based on an agreement made between parents regarding care arrangements for their children. The key difference is that parenting orders are enforceable so if a party fails to adhere to orders, consequences may follow depending on the nature of the breach and the circumstances giving rise to the breach.

Both parenting plans and parenting orders may deal with a whole host of issues such as:

  • Who the child will live with

  • How much time they will spend with each parent and other important people in their lives (grandparents for example)

  • How communication between parents and with children shall occur

  • What is to happen on special occasions like birthdays, Christmases and during school holidays

  • Any other aspect of the care, welfare and development of children (such as education, health, parent’s conduct, sharing of information, changeovers, travel and the mechanism for resolving disputes).

Despite the formality of parenting orders, parents can still agree to vary the arrangements from time to time if this is something they are both happy to do. Everyone appreciates that life happens, and you can’t always plan for everything: weekends may need to be swapped, pick up times change, or special events come up. In those circumstances, both parents can agree to depart from the terms of the parenting orders. However, if one parent makes a proposal which the other doesn’t agree with, the terms of the parenting orders will apply.

We can help you work out what is best for you and your children in the particular circumstances of your case. If an agreement cannot be reached with your former partner regarding the care arrangements, we can assist you to resolve the matter. This will almost always involve family dispute resolution first (mediation), before going to Court. Tell us about your circumstances, and we can provide you with specialist legal advice.

Lucy Wood