Below is some basic information about how the family law system works out parenting arrangements when people separate. It is not provided as legal advice. If you are considering separation or have separated, you should seek legal advice before making a decision about what to do. Call 1800 684 055 to make an appointment to talk to a lawyer.

Separation and children – how does it work?

When you separate, you and your former partner will need to make some important decisions about the future care of your children.

The Family Law Act 1975 is the law that sets out what happens with separating families regarding divorce, parenting arrangements, property and spousal maintenance.

The law says it’s important for children to have a meaningful relationship with each of their parents and other people who are important in their lives (like grandparents), provided this is in the children’s best interests and unless this puts the children at risk of harm.

The law places an obligation on parents to make a genuine effort to resolve parenting issues without going to Court. Parents are encouraged to reach agreement regarding the arrangements for their children and to access family dispute resolution services, such as mediation, to assist them to reach agreement.

Domestic violence within a relationship can affect the way the law works. It is important to let your lawyer know if you have experienced, or are experiencing, domestic violence.

Making arrangements post-separation

After separation, it is important to consider the living arrangements for your children, including the amount of time they will spend, and how they will communicate, with each parent. It is also important to consider how future decisions will be made about the children.

You can talk to a lawyer to get advice and assistance regarding the arrangements you can make.  You and your former partner can also attend family dispute resolution such as mediation.

Family Dispute Resolution and Mediation

Mediation is a process where you and your former partner can come together to discuss arrangements for your children. It happens in the presence of a neutral and impartial person called a ‘mediator’. The mediator can’t advise you or make decisions for you – their job is to help parents reach an agreement, together.

When you reach an agreement you are both happy with, it can be recorded as either a ‘parenting plan’ or in ‘consent orders’. You should get legal advice before signing a parenting plan or consent orders.

Parenting Plans

A parenting plan is a written agreement that sets out the parenting arrangements for the children. It’s worked out and agreed to by both parties, so there is no need to go to court. Parenting plans are not legally enforceable.

Consent Orders

A consent order is a written agreement that is approved by the Court.

It has the same legal force as an order made after a Court hearing. You and your former partner can apply for consent orders without having to go to Court.

Going to Court

If an agreement can’t be reached, you can ask the Court to decide about your parenting arrangements.

Before you can go to Court, you and your former partner are required to attend compulsory Family Dispute Resolution, such as mediation. The Court will not accept your application unless you have a certificate from a mediator.  This requirement can sometimes be removed if there are concerns around family violence or child abuse.

How can CAWLS help?

We can provide advice about parenting plans, consent orders and going to Court, as well as other family law issues (like property settlement).

CAWLS is a free and confidential legal service for all women in Central Australia

We offer free advice sessions to all women. We may be able to provide ongoing assistance and representation in some cases.

When necessary, we can assist with referrals to other legal services and support agencies.

Further information and support

  • The Family Law Pathways Network Service Directory contains a list of local support services for separating families.
  • The Family Law Courts have lots of information for separating families, including the Marriage, Families and Separation brochure.
  • Relationships Australia: relationship support services, including counselling services for divorcing/separating couples, and Family Dispute Resolution services.
  • Family Relationship Advice Line: 1800 050 321. Assistance for families affected by relationship or separation issues.
  • Family Relationships Online:  information and advice about family relationship issues for all families (whether together or separated), including information about services that can assist them to manage relationship issues, including agreeing on appropriate arrangements for children after parents separate.
  • A useful list of links to information about family law available online.