When a relationship ends, the law says that parents must try to agree on arrangements for their children, and think about what is best for the children.
If parents agree, they can put this agreement in writing, which can be made into legally enforceable consent orders by a court.
If parents cannot agree, they may have to try family dispute resolution.
If family dispute resolution does not work, a person can apply to the family law courts to make what is called 'parenting orders'. The court always puts the children’s best interests first.
As a parent, you have ongoing responsibilities for your children. This applies even if you are separated, divorced, re-married, re-partnered or have never lived together.
The law encourages parents and other people interested in the welfare of children to try to agree on arrangements for children, if the parents separate or do not live together. It is best if you and the other parent decide together what to do about your children. For example:
- where the children will live, and who they will spend time with
- how the children will be financially supported
- how the children will maintain a relationship with both parents and other important people, such as grandparents and extended family.
If you agree on arrangements
If you agree on parenting arrangements, parenting plans or consent orders are a way to record your arrangements.
If you disagree on arrangements
If you can’t reach agreement on arrangements, you can apply to the court for a parenting order. In most cases, you cannot ask a court for an order unless you have tried family dispute resolution.
Protecting children from physical or psychological harm is the court's main priority. This will be addressed by the court before making any decision about arrangements.
If there is a child protection investigation
If the children are involved in a child protection case because of neglect or child abuse concerns, the family law courts do not usually consider an application until that case is finished. Child protection cases are heard in the Children's Court of Victoria.
Relocating with children
If you are considering moving your childrento live somewhere that would make it difficult for the other parent to see them, you need to:
- reach an agreement with the other parent
- make an application to the family law courts.
This includes moving interstate or overseas. A move like this will have an effect on the children maintaining their relationship with the other parent. The best interests of the children must be considered in these circumstances.
Combined legal and social support services at the Family Court
Family Advocacy and Support Services are available at the Melbourne and Dandenong Family Law Registries.
It combines specialist legal advice, risk screening, safety planning, social support and referrals for families affected by family violence.
See Family Advocacy and Support Services
If you agree on parenting arrangements
Caring for children when you are not their parent
Relocating or travelling with children
Living with parenting arrangements
Find out how you can get other support for parenting arrangements, child contact and child support.
Publications and resources
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 06 May 2022