Co-Parenting in Australia: Guide to Successful Parenting Arrangements after Separation

Clarity Family Lawyers Co Parenting

The end of a relationship is a challenging time for everyone involved. From determining how you’ll divide your assets to working out new living arrangements, a lot of decisions need to be made.

For families with children, separation can be exceptionally challenging as you’ll need to figure out how you’ll parent moving forward. Unless a Court has ordered otherwise, both parents have parental responsibility for their children. This means that each parent has duties, powers and responsibilities for their children. These relate to day-to-day and long-term decisions that need to be made to ensure the well-being and healthy development of children.

But how do you make these decisions when you’re no longer with your child’s other parent? In Australia, co-parenting has become a preferred method for parenting after separation. Co-parenting can allow for both parents to have a meaningful relationship with their child/ren, where they can nurture the relationship and allow their children to grow up in a supportive environment.

In this article, we’re going to talk about co-parenting, including what it is, what the law says about it and how you can do it – we’ll also give you some tips on how to make it easier. So, whether you’ve recently separated and you’re trying to figure out your next steps, you’re considering separation, or you’ve been separated for a while but you’re finding parenting difficult, keep reading to learn more.

What is co-parenting?

Children do not need to have married parents or even parents be in a relationship to have a meaningful and supportive relationship with their parents. Children need their parents to make decisions that put them first.

Co-parenting involves parents working together to make decisions that affect their child/children’s lives. The way these decisions may be made will differ from family to family, but the aim is for both parents to be involved in their child’s lives and provide a supportive environment.

At the heart of co-parenting is the idea of making decisions that will affect your child, whether directly or indirectly, by thinking about what is in the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child is an important principle in the Australian family law system, and one that always needs to be considered by the Courts and legal entities when making decisions affecting children. The best interests of the child are based on a variety of factors, with two primary factors at the core, which are that the child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, and that the child has the right to be protected from harm of any kind.

While in theory co-parenting sounds great – and it can be – it’s not always easy. Even when you and your child’s other parent get along well, co-parenting can be hard. Numerous obstacles will come up along the way and the way co-parenting looks for you will likely be pretty different compared to other families. However, understanding the way parenting plans and arrangements can be made and the types of obstacles you could face, will make it a lot easier.

We also need to acknowledge that co-parenting may not be appropriate for everyone. If instances of abuse or domestic and family violence have occurred, are present or suspected, it’s important to seek legal advice to understand your options. If you’re in immediate danger, please ensure you contact emergency services.

Co-parenting and the Australian Family Law System

In Australia, the family law system plays a crucial role in guiding co-parenting arrangements with the Family Law Act 1975 being the key legislation governing family law matters – including parenting arrangements.

The overarching principle is that children have the right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with both parents, provided it is in their best interests. And one of the driving forces that allow children to have these relationships with their parents is the presumption in the Family Law Act that parents will have equal shared parental responsibility.

As we touched on above, parental responsibility refers to the responsibilities, duties and powers that parents have in relation to their children’s lives. Both parents have an equal responsibility and involvement in making major decisions regarding their children’s upbringing, such as education, health, and religious matters. It’s important to note that equal shared parental responsibility does not mean that parents have equal “custody” or spend equal amounts of time with their children, which is a common misconception.

The Australian family law system encourages parents to work out between them how they will parent, known as parenting arrangements. These arrangements can be made privately between the parents or through negotiation and mediation services, where you can enlist the help of third parties and legal professionals to find the most suitable outcome for your situation. If parents are unable to work out parenting arrangements themselves or with the assistance of mediation services, then they can also apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) to have these arrangements decided for them.

What are the benefits of co-parenting?

When your relationship ends with someone the last thing you may want to do is have any involvement with them at all. While you won’t need to spend as much time or communicate as frequently as you may have in the past, there are a lot of benefits that co-parenting can bring – especially for your child/children, including:

  • By providing a consistent approach to parenting, you can create a stable and reliable environment for your child.
  • Your child will feel secure and safe when you offer them a sense of stability and predictability.
  • Spending quality time and maintaining open communication with both parents will greatly benefit your child’s development and well-being.
  • As parents, you have the opportunity to be positive role models by demonstrating effective problem-solving skills and healthy communication for your child.
  • By minimising the impact of your separation or divorce on your child’s mental health and overall well-being, you can help them navigate this challenging time with greater resilience.

What You Need to Cover in a Co-Parenting Plan

Your co-parenting plan can be super simple or highly detailed and may include details about where your children will live, visitation, communication and various other matters, or it may simply be an agreement of the types of matters that both parents need to be involved in when making decisions regarding the kids.

There is no right or wrong answer, however, we do recommend seeking legal advice, so you ensure that you’ve considered all factors when creating a co-parenting plan.

The matters you need to cover will differ from family to family, and will also depend on factors such as how many children you have and their ages, however, some of the most common factors that your co-parenting plan should address include:

  • Education matters, such as where the child will go to school;
  • Financial responsibilities, such as how each parent will provide for their child/ren.
  • Medical and matters, such as when both parents need to be involved in making decisions; and
  • Contact and visitation, such as when each parent will see and talk to their children.

If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you’ve been faced with making all kinds of decisions, and you’re probably aware that it’s not possible to know all of the different scenarios that may occur as your child grows up, so another important aspect of your co-parenting plan should be about how decisions should be made. For each of the above factors, it may be a good idea that you and your child’s other parent work out parameters where certain factors may mean that as parents you will need to make certain decisions together and others may be made independently.

What do we do after we’ve made a parenting arrangement?

If you and your child’s other parent have figured out how you want to parent, you have the option to keep the arrangement informal or to make it formal.

Informal parenting arrangements – parenting plans

It’s possible to work out your parenting arrangements and keep them informal. Commonly, these arrangements are documented in a parenting plan. The parenting plan is jointly agreed upon by the parents and clearly outlines the arrangements you have agreed upon.

This option means that you have a record of what you’ve agreed upon, but you do not go to or apply to the Court to make the arrangements formal and legally binding. This can be a suitable option if you and your child’s other parent get along well and trust each other to do the right thing by sticking to the agreement and prioritising your child.

However, as we mentioned above, the agreement is not legally binding and cannot be enforced – if one parent decides to no longer follow it, it means that they could potentially not face any legal consequences. Over time, a Parenting Plan may be changed or updated, as your circumstances change, so it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck sticking to the agreement forever.

Formal parenting arrangements – consent orders

Once you’ve made the parenting arrangements you can formalise these by applying to the courts for consent orders. A consent order is a legally binding and enforceable order – it’s called a consent order as the parties applying have created and come to an agreement or consented to the agreement, the decision was not made by a Judge and the parents did not need to attend Court to obtain the Orders.

It is important to know that it can be very difficult to change consent orders if the other parent does not agree to changes being made. You should therefor carefully consider whether the Orders will be appropriate over the longer term. One of the many benefits of a consent order is that it can be legally enforced and if the order is breached, the breaching party could face serious consequences.

Before entering into a consent order, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice to ensure that the agreement is suitable for your situation.

What if we can’t come to an agreement about how we’ll parent?

You have a few options up your sleeve if you and your child’s other parent cannot come to an agreement for parenting.

One of these options is mediation. Mediation is a valuable tool for resolving co-parenting disputes in Australia. It involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who helps facilitate discussions between parents to reach agreements. Mediation provides a safe and structured environment for parents to express their concerns, explore options, and find common ground. Mediation can be conducted between the parents and the mediator or you may be able to have legal representation to help in the process.

At Clarity Lawyers, we offer a mediation representation service where we can represent you or support you throughout the mediation process. We find that mediation has a much higher success rate when both parents are represented. Often one parent may have unrealistic expectations and having a lawyer they know is there to look out for their interests can assist to resolve the issues.

Apart from mediation, there are other alternative dispute resolution methods available, such as arbitration and family dispute resolution. These processes offer a less formal and less adversarial approach compared to going to court, allowing parents to maintain control over the decision-making process.

The benefit of resolving co-parenting conflicts outside of court is that it promotes cooperative problem-solving and reduces the emotional and financial costs associated with litigation. It also empowers parents to craft tailored solutions that suit the unique needs of their family.

If you’re completely stuck with your parenting arrangements, your only option may be that you need to apply to the court for parenting orders. We highly recommend working with a family lawyer before this to see if the dispute can be resolved outside of court, and if it can’t, the same family lawyer will likely be able to help you throughout the court process too.

Support Services for Co-Parents in Australia

Recognising the importance of supporting co-parents in their journey, Australia offers various support services. Government-funded programs, such as Family Relationship Centres and Parenting Orders Programs, provide information, counselling, and dispute resolution services to assist parents in navigating the complexities of co-parenting.

Additionally, numerous community organisations and support groups offer resources, workshops, and educational programs specifically designed for separated or divorced parents. These initiatives aim to enhance parents’ knowledge, skills, and resilience, ultimately benefiting the well-being of their children.

Counselling and therapy services are also available to help co-parents and their children address the emotional challenges that may arise during and after separation. Qualified professionals can provide guidance and strategies to manage stress, improve communication, and promote healthy co-parenting relationships.

As family lawyers, we’re here to provide support for co-parents as well. We can provide advice, we can advocate, we can negotiate, and we can represent you in legal matters that may arise, so it’s important to understand that you have support in your co-parenting journey.

Challenges and Issues You May Face When Co-Parenting

Co-parenting is not without its challenges. Communication difficulties, disagreements over parenting styles, and managing conflict are common issues that arise after separation. It’s essential to recognise and address these challenges proactively to ensure a healthy co-parenting environment.

Effective communication is key to successful co-parenting. Open and respectful dialogue between parents allows for better cooperation, decision-making, and conflict resolution. Utilising various communication methods, such as face-to-face meetings, email, or dedicated co-parenting apps, can facilitate ongoing contact and information sharing.

Conflicts between co-parents can significantly impact children’s well-being. It’s crucial to approach disagreements with a problem-solving mindset, focusing on the child’s best interests rather than personal differences. Engaging in professional mediation or counselling can provide valuable support in navigating these challenges.

It’s also important to acknowledge the impact of separation on children. They may experience a range of emotions, including sadness, confusion, and loyalty conflicts. Providing them with a safe and supportive environment, reassuring their love and involvement from both parents, and seeking professional guidance when needed can help them navigate these emotions.

Tips for successful co-parenting

To promote successful co-parenting, consider the following best practices:

  • Effective Communication: Maintain open, respectful, and child-focused communication with your co-parent.
  • Child-Centered Decision-Making: Make decisions together, keeping the child’s best interests as the primary consideration.
  • Consistency and Stability: Establish consistent routines and rules between households to provide stability for the child.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Be open to adjusting the co-parenting arrangements as the child’s needs evolve.
  • Positive Co-Parenting Relationship: Foster a positive relationship with your co-parent, focusing on cooperation rather than conflict.
  • Self-Care: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being, as it directly influences your ability to co-parent effectively.
  • Think of your Relationship in a New Way: Your personal and intimate relationship no longer exist with your co-parent, however, you made a decision to have children together, so try to think of your relationship in the context of your children and your child’s parent is your team mate to ensure that your child’s needs are being met.
  • Seek Help When You Need It: It’s easy to overlook resources but there’s no shame in seeking help when you’re finding your parenting journey challenging. Whether you need someone to talk to or you need to ensure you’re doing what is best for your child, there are resources to help you, including family lawyers.

Start Co-parenting Off Right with Clarity Lawyers

Co-parenting will always have its challenges but with the help of an understanding family law team, the process can be a lot easier to work through. From understanding your obligations and responsibilities to knowing all of your options, our family law team is here to help you.

We can guide you through any legal processes you may need to undertake, we can answer your questions and provide you with the right legal advice so that you can make decisions when you know all the facts.

Our family law services are available Australia-wide and we’re here for you today. Call us on 02 4023 5553 or book a consultation online here.

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Rli Samantha@2x
Samantha Miller

Samantha has been a lawyer since 2001 having followed in the steps of her father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. No one can say she didn’t know what she was getting into!

Initially admitted in 2001 as a solicitor in NSW and Australia, Samantha moved to the UK where she was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2002. After working in several different areas of the law in large London firms, she determined that family law was her calling and hasn’t looked back.


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