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What is a Parenting Plan?

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After a breakup, figuring out how to share time with your kids can be challenging.

This is where a parenting plan comes in. It’s like a guidebook for moms and dads, helping everyone know what to do.

This isn’t just a piece of paper—it’s a promise to always think of what’s best for the kids, even when things get tough.

Our child custody lawyers explain this plan, its essentials, and how to make one.

Let’s dive in and make co-parenting more straightforward for everyone.


So, what exactly is a parenting plan?

Think of it as a roadmap for moms and dads after they split up. It lays out who the kids will spend time with, when, and how decisions about them will be made.

But here’s the catch: unlike some official legal papers, a parenting plan isn’t forced by law. This means it’s based on trust between parents.

Now, you might hear about things like consent orders. These are different. While a parenting plan is an agreement, consent orders are like official rules set by a court. They’re legally binding, but the heart of both is always the child’s well-being.


  • Ensuring the Best Interests of Children Post-Separation: A parenting plan places the child’s welfare at the forefront. After a separation, routines and familiarities can be disrupted. A well-structured plan helps maintain a sense of normalcy and stability for the child, ensuring their emotional and physical needs are met.
  • Avoiding Disputes and Providing Clarity: An explicit, written agreement sets out each parent’s responsibilities and expectations. This minimises the chances of misunderstandings or disagreements. Both parents can confidently navigate their roles without constant negotiation or dispute.
  • Demonstrating Responsibility in Australian Family Law: In Australian family law, having a parenting plan is a testament to a parent’s commitment to their child’s well-being. While not legally binding, it provides a solid foundation and can influence legal proceedings, showing both parents’ dedication to their child’s best interests.

Also read: Can You Drop a Custody Case in Australia?

How to Write a Parenting Plan

Creating a parenting plan doesn’t follow a strict format, but it needs to be clear and practical. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you draft an effective plan:

  • Open a Dialogue: Before putting pen to paper, discuss the key elements both want to include with the other parent, ensuring alignment in priorities and mutual respect.
  • Draft a Structure: Organise your plan by categories like living arrangements, education, and extracurriculars to make it easy to follow.
  • Stay Flexible: Understand that situations change, and the plan might need adjustments. Make sure there’s room for flexibility.
  • Review Regularly: Schedule periodic reviews of the plan to account for changes in circumstances or needs.

Considerations when drafting

The Practicality of Proposed Arrangements

It’s essential to ensure that the arrangements are feasible.

Will the child have a consistent routine? Can parents realistically commit to the agreed times?

It’s vital for the agreement not to be manageable but to provide stability for the child.

Parents’ Work Schedules, Living Distances, and Child’s Schedule

Aligning these schedules can be one of the most challenging parts.

Consider commuting times between homes, working hours, and the child’s day-to-day activities.

It ensures smooth transitions and minimises disruptions to the child’s routine.

School Location, Transport, and Special Needs

The school’s proximity to both parents’ homes, arrangements for drop-offs and pick-ups, and accommodating any special needs (like therapy or tutoring sessions) should be detailed in the plan.

Taking into Account the Child’s Age and Views

As children grow, their needs, preferences, and opinions evolve.

Especially for older kids, it might be beneficial to involve them in discussions about the plan to ensure their feelings and desires are considered.

Remember, a parenting plan should be in the child’s best interest, making their input invaluable.

Also read: Who Decides Where a Child Goes to School After Divorce in Australia

Critical Components to Include

Drafting an effective parenting plan requires understanding the essential components that make it comprehensive and practical. Here are some key elements to consider:

  • Residency: This outlines where the child will primarily reside. It’s crucial to decide if one parent will have sole custody or if the child will switch between homes on a set schedule.
  • Time Allocation: Determine specific days, weekends, or periods when the child will spend time with each parent. This offers predictability for both parents and the child, making transitions smoother.
  • Decision-making: This focuses on how major decisions regarding the child will be made. Will both parents have equal say, or will one parent take the lead on specific areas like health or education?
  • Communication: Establish the methods (like phone calls, texts, or emails) and frequency of communication between parents; also, detail how the child will communicate with the non-resident parent.
  • Special Occasions: Birthdays, holidays, and other significant events should have predetermined plans. This ensures that both parents can share these special moments with their children.
  • Financial Responsibilities: Clearly define who covers everyday expenses, school fees, medical expenses, and any other unforeseen costs. This reduces potential conflicts down the line.
  • Child’s Cultural or Religious Needs: If the child observes specific cultural or religious practices, outline them in the plan to ensure continuity and respect for these traditions.
  • Inclusion of Other Family Members or Step-Parents: Specify any arrangements for the child to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or step-parents. Their involvement can be an essential part of the child’s life.
  • Educational Considerations: Highlight each parent’s role in the child’s education. Who attends parent-teacher conferences? How is homework managed? This section ensures the child’s academic needs are met consistently.


Parenting plans, while invaluable tools for coordination between separated parents aren’t legally binding by default. This differentiates them from court orders, which carry legal obligations and consequences if not followed.

For those seeking to give legal weight to their parenting plan, converting it into a consent order is the pathway.

The Family Law Act 1975 provides specific guidelines on this process and further emphasizes the importance of ensuring plans are made without threat, duress, or coercion.

Parenting Plans and Child Support

Child support, crucial for the well-being of children, often involves oversight from the Department of Human Services (DHS).

A detailed parenting plan can play a pivotal role when DHS assesses the amount and distribution of child support. It clarifies each parent’s care, which can impact the financial requirements.

Including precise arrangements in the plan can ease the process and help ensure that the child’s financial needs are addressed adequately.

Considering a Parenting Plan in Australia?

Navigating post-separation decisions can be challenging. Let Justice Family Lawyers guide you through creating a tailored plan that prioritises your child’s needs.

Our expertise gives you a comprehensive parenting plan for any situation. Reach out to Justice Family Lawyers today — where your family’s welfare is our top priority.