Parenting orders are crucial in resolving disputes and establishing clear guidelines for separated or divorced parents in Australia.
However, circumstances can change over time, requiring modifications to the existing parenting orders. Let’s explore the process of changing parenting orders in Australia, outlining the legal framework, requirements, and considerations for parents seeking such modifications.
What is a Parenting Order?
In Australia, parenting orders are governed by the Family Law Act 1975, which aims to prioritise the child’s best interests when determining parenting arrangements.
Parenting orders cover various aspects of parental responsibility, including custody, living arrangements, communication, and visitation rights.
What are the Reasons for Changing Parenting Orders?
Changing parenting orders is necessary when there is a significant change in circumstances that affect the welfare and best interests of the child.
Some common reasons for changing parenting orders include the following:
- Relocation: If one parent needs to move due to work, family, or other reasons, the existing parenting arrangements may need to be revised to accommodate the new circumstances.
- Safety Concerns: If there are concerns about the child’s safety or well-being, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect, or other risks, a parent can seek changes to the parenting orders to ensure the child’s best interests are protected.
- Age and Development: As children grow older, their needs and preferences may change. Adjustments to parenting orders may be required to reflect the child’s evolving developmental stage and ensure their emotional and physical well-being.
- Parental Cooperation: If the parents experience ongoing conflict or difficulty in co-parenting, parenting orders can be modified to establish more precise guidelines and reduce tension.
Can We Change Our Existing Parenting Order?
Yes, changing an existing parenting order is possible if a significant change in circumstances affects the child’s welfare. The process typically involves the following steps:
- Mediation: Attempt to resolve disagreements and reach a mutual agreement.
- Seek Legal Advice: Consult a child custody lawyer for guidance on the legal process and assess the proposed changes’ viability.
- Assess Change in Circumstances: Determine if there has been a substantial change that justifies modifying the existing parenting order, such as relocation, safety concerns, developmental differences, or ongoing conflict.
- Court Proceedings: If mediation fails or is inappropriate, apply to the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court for a parenting order variation. Present evidence and pay applicable fees.
- Provide Supporting Evidence: Strong evidence, including police reports, medical records, and witness statements, should support the need for modifications.
The court’s primary consideration is the child’s best interests. It is essential to demonstrate how the proposed changes will benefit the child’s welfare. Seeking legal advice can help navigate the complex process and increase the chances of a successful outcome.
Can a Parenting Order be Changed without Going to Court?
Yes, changing parenting orders is possible without going to court. It is generally encouraged to explore alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or family dispute resolution, before resorting to court proceedings.
These methods allow parents to discuss their concerns, negotiate, and try to reach a mutually agreeable solution outside of the court system.
If both parents can agree on the proposed changes to the parenting order, they can draft a written agreement outlining the modifications.
This agreement is commonly referred to as a parenting plan. While a parenting plan is not legally binding, it is a guide for both parents to follow and can be highly effective in maintaining a cooperative co-parenting relationship.
It’s important to note that even if changes are made through a parenting plan, it is advisable to seek legal advice to ensure the modifications comply with the Family Law Act 1975 and that the child’s best interests are considered.
However, if an agreement cannot be reached through alternative dispute resolution methods or if the changes are significant, it may be necessary to seek court approval by applying for a new or varied parenting order through the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.
Seek Legal Assistance Before Changing Parenting Orders
Randolph, a talented chef sharing custody of his daughter, faced a career opportunity that required him to relocate.
Based on Randolph’s situation, the modifications required adjustments to the existing parenting order.
This included revising the schedule for visitation and determining new arrangements for school holidays and special occasions.
We ensured that provisions were made for maintaining regular and meaningful communication between Randolph and her daughter, incorporating video calls, phone calls, and other forms of virtual contact.
We guided Randolph through changing the parenting order and presented Randolph’s case to the court, emphasising the positive impact of the relocation on his career and his daughter’s future.
The court approved the modification, allowing Randolph to move while maintaining their strong bond through revised living arrangements and communication guidelines.
Changing Parenting Orders Requires Careful Consideration
Changing parenting orders in Australia requires careful consideration of the legal framework, the child’s best interests, and the circumstances requiring the modifications.
Seeking legal advice and attempting mediation before initiating court proceedings can help parents achieve the best outcomes for their children.
By following the proper procedures and providing strong evidence, parents can navigate the process effectively and ensure the welfare of their children remains the priority.
The founder of the firm, Silvio is a Family Law Specialist Accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria, Accredited FindLaw Feature Writer in Family Law and is a Founding Member of the Collaborative Law Committee of the Law Institute of Victoria.