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Getting help to reach your agreement

When working towards your agreement with your ex-partner, you can discuss the matters yourselves, or you may benefit from the help of counsellors or mediation services to help you both work through all the relevant points and arrive at an agreement that is in your child/ren’s best interests.

For example, even if you currently disagree, you may be able to reach agreement at a dispute resolution conference. This is also known as mediation.

There is excellent information explaining family dispute resolution — what it is, how it works, what it costs etc — at www.familyrelationships.gov.au

Here is a list of organisations that may be able to help you as you work towards an agreement.

Legal Aid Queensland

You can get free legal advice from Legal Aid Queensland about preparing your agreement, or to help you decide which counselling or mediation services might be right for you, or whether you are eligible to apply for legal aid to attend a dispute resolution conference run by Legal Aid Queensland.

Visit www.legalaid.qld.gov.au or call 1300 65 11 88 (for the cost of a local call from a landline in Australia).

Family Relationships Online

Family Relationships Online is a federal government service providing online information, drop-in centres and a free telephone advice line. You can access a wide range of services, including family dispute resolution through this organisation.

Visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au or call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 for more information on their family dispute resolution service.

Relationships Australia

This organisation also offers counselling and family dispute resolution. Visit www.relationships.org.au or call 1300 364 277.

What is the difference between consent orders, parenting orders and parenting plans?

Consent orders

When you and your ex-partner agree about arrangements for your children, you can apply to the court for orders to be made by agreement. These are called consent orders. Consent orders are court orders that set out what both parents must do. They have the same force and effect as if you had gone to court and the court official, such as a judge, made the decision after a hearing. If you break a court order you are breaking the law and the court could give you a penalty.

Consent orders are usually between the child’s parents. In some circumstances, grandparents and other relatives can also make consent orders about children who are related to them. If you are not a parent or relative of a child/ren you will need to get legal advice about the process you have to follow.

Parenting plans

If you and the other parent agree about parenting matters, you can make a parenting plan rather than apply for consent orders. A parenting plan is a less formal way of agreeing in writing about arrangements for your child/ren. It can be on any sort of paper – there is no set form – and it doesn’t get filed in a court. It can be short and simple or very detailed. It can be in plain English without using legal terms, or it can use legal terms — as long as your agreement is clear.

You can work out a parenting plan yourselves, or with the help of a counsellor or a friend. You don’t need a lawyer to draw up a parenting plan, but you can still ask a lawyer for advice. A parenting plan is a written document that you can use to rely on, instead of a verbal agreement. It can easily be changed (as long as both people agree) without having to go to court.

An agreement can only be a parenting plan if it is made free from any threat, duress or coercion. Parenting plans have to be in writing, dated and be signed by each parent or person involved.

A parenting plan is not a court order. If you break a parenting plan you are not breaking the law, but if you make a parenting plan and break it, the other person may take you to court. The court must consider any parenting plans that were in place. The court may ask you why you broke the parenting plan and might make orders that you do not like as much as the parenting plan.

Also, even though a parenting plan is not a court order, a parenting plan that is signed after a consent order is made may override the consent order. If the parenting plan is different to the consent order, you cannot rely on the consent order or complain that the consent order has been broken. Do not sign anything until you get advice from a lawyer.

Parenting order

If you and your ex-partner don’t agree about arrangements for your child/ren and you apply to the court to decide, you are applying for a parenting order.

A parenting order is an order made by a court about your parental responsibilities and arrangements for your child/ren. If you do not follow a parenting order you may be breaking the law and the courts could give you a penalty.

If you want to apply to the court for a parenting order, or apply to make changes to an existing parenting order, you and your ex-partner must first attempt family dispute resolution before applying to court. You must get a certificate, sometimes called a ‘section 6oI certificate’, from a registered family dispute resolution provider confirming you and your ex-partner attempted a family dispute resolution. There are some exceptions to this requirement, such as cases involving family violence or child abuse.

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