Applying for Parenting Orders: How the Recent Family Court Reforms Will Affect You

The way in which the Family Court deals with applications to do with the parenting of children has changed dramatically. Most significantly there are changes to how certain applications are made to the court, how parties are represented by their legal counsel and the format of documents filed.

If parents have a private agreement that they want to ensure is enforceable in the future they can apply on the standard track for a Consent Order. This is the quickest and easiest way to obtain a Parenting Order through the Family Court.

More often, however, parents cannot agree on arrangements for their children. Where there are facts that mean that an urgent application is required (for example if there is the risk of harm or undue hardship to a child) then a Without Notice Application can be made in a way very similar to that previously used. A party who makes a Without Notice Application can use a lawyer to prepare and file the application, or to respond to one made by the other parent, and to represent the party in court from the beginning of the process.

On many occasions it will not be appropriate to make a Without Notice Application as there is no risk of harm or undue hardship to a child. In which case, an application on the standard track will be necessary.

The process of making an application on the standard track is very different to the previous process. In most cases parties who wish to make an application on the standard track need to have taken part in the Parenting Through Separation course and the Family Dispute Resolution (“FDR”) process before making their application to the Family Court for a Parenting Order. FDR is a new step, the aim being to resolve the issues that are stopping parents from agreeing on a plan that is in the best interests of their children prior to becoming engaged in the court process.

Parties who have attended and completed the Parenting Through Separation course and FDR can then apply on the standard track for a Parenting Order. Applications on the standard track must be made by the party themselves and there are certain initial steps including court appearances, that the parties cannot have legal representation at. However, a lawyer can still be of assistance in preparing the documentation required to file the application and to guide their client through the initial court appearances “behind the scenes” to maximise their client’s chances of success and to provide legal advice.

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