Applying to the court for orders should be a last resort and only considered after all genuine efforts to resolve the matter have failed.

 NOTE: You can apply for parenting and property/financial orders in the same application. See the fact sheet Applying to the court for orders and How do I apply for property and financial orders? for more information.

What is a parenting order?

A parenting order is a set of orders made by a court about parenting arrangements for a child. A court can make a parenting order based on an agreement between the parties (consent orders) or after a court hearing or trial. When a parenting order is made, each person affected by the order must follow it.

A parenting order may deal with one or more of the following:

  • who the child will live with
  • how much time the child will spend with each parent and with other people, such as grandparents
  • the allocation of parental responsibility
  • how the child will communicate with a parent they do not live with, or other people
  • any other aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child.

For more information see the Attorney-General's Department publication, Parenting Orders - what you need to know.

Seeking legal advice

It is advisable to obtain legal advice before making a decision about what to do or before applying to the courts. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. They can also explain how the law applies to your case. The Family Relationship Advice Line (FRAL) can help you with free legal advice and information about services available to assist anyone with family relationship issues including information relating to family law proceedings. Call 1800 050 321 or +61 7 3423 6878 if you are overseas. You should notify FRAL that you require legal advice so they can take your details and organise a lawyer to contact you. FRAL will provide a timeframe and you should advise if your request is urgent. Alternatively you can obtain initial free legal advice from a Legal Advice Line in your state or territory. Court staff cannot give you legal advice.

Pre-filing procedures in parenting matters

Before you file an application for parenting orders you are required to read the Marriage, families and separation brochure. You must also make a genuine effort to resolve the matter by family dispute resolution. See Reaching an agreement without going to court for more details about dispute resolution services.

Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975 requires that an applicant obtain a certificate from a registered family dispute resolution practitioner before an application is filed with the Federal Circuit Court. To find a family dispute resolution service provider in your local area, call Family Relationship Advice Line (FRAL) (as detailed above). 

For information on the procedures and requirements for compulsory family dispute resolution in family law proceedings refer to the fact sheets Dispute Resolution in Family Law Proceedings and Compulsory Family Dispute Resolution. In certain circumstances the Court can grant an exemption from the requirement to file a certificate as indicated in the fact sheet.

The Family Law Act 1975 requires the courts to take into consideration the best interests of the child as the most important consideration when making parenting orders. For more information see Parenting Cases – the best interest of the child.

You can also refer to the brochure Parenting After Separation prepared by Family Law Pathways in South Australia, but applicable nationally, which provides some general insights regarding parenting after separation.

If you agree on parenting arrangements

If all parties have reached agreement and want to formalise the agreement to make it legally binding you can apply to the Family Court of Australia for consent orders. See How do I apply for Consent orders for more information.

If you can't agree on parenting arrangements

If there is no agreement and your application will be for determination by the Court, then one party can start court proceedings by filing an Initiating Application to ask the Federal Circuit Court of Australia or the Family Court of Australia to make orders. See the Protocol for the division of work between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court for information about which court you should file your application in.

If you are filing interim parenting orders in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney, Newcastle or Canberra you should read the Notice to Practitioners Interim Parenting Proceedings.

For more information about specific parenting issues see Types of parenting matters below.

For information about filing an application see Filing an application with the Court below.

Types of parenting matters

Select the relevant type of parenting matter/s below for more information:

To change an existing court order, you will need to show that there has been a significant change of circumstances that makes a change necessary. See Applying to change an existing order for more information.

If you agree to the changes, you can apply for consent orders in the Family Court (not the Federal Circuit Court) or alternatively you may enter into a parenting plan. For more information, see the section 'If you agree on arrangements', and the Parenting plans - Information for parents to consider when making a parenting plan available on the Family Relationships Online website.

If you do not agree you follow the same process as if you were applying to the Court for the first time. See If you can't agree on parenting arrangements above.

For information about relocation and travel in family law see Relocation and Travel.

Moving with your child/ren to another town, state or country is known as relocation. If your child/ren primarily lives with you and you need to relocate, you should first try to talk to the other party.

If you cannot agree about relocating, you can apply to a court for orders to allow you to move. See Filing an application with the Court below. The Court may not grant permission. The Court will consider the best interests and welfare of the child/ren.

If you move without a court order or without the consent of the other party, a court may require you to return with the child/ren until the case has reached an outcome. If there is a court order in place, you will be breaking the order and the other parent can apply to enforce the current order.

The Courts have powers under Part VII - Division 6 of the Family Law Act 1975 in appropriate circumstances to make an order restricting a parent or other person from removing a child from Australia by adding them to the airport watch list. The Courts also have the power to remove a child's name from the airport watch list. Please see Children and international travel after family separation which provides useful information in relation to applying for an order to add or remove a child's name to the watch list. You should also refer the Australian Federal Police Family Law Kit for the exact wording required for a watch list order.

Helpful Hint - The Court has an out-of-hours service for emergencies: that is, there is a risk that a child may be taken out of the country before the next working day. Call the courts on 1300 352 000 out of business hours and you will be referred to this emergency number.

For more information about travel and passport issues for children please see Relocation and Travel and Children and international travel after family separation.

For further information regarding the issue of passports please also see www.passports.gov.au

Helpful Hint - The Court has an out-of-hours service for emergencies: that is, there is a risk that a child may be taken out of the country before the next working day. Call the courts on 1300 352 000 out of business hours and you will be referred to this emergency number.

If your child is taken from their home country without your permission, or without the authorisation of a court, then the Hague Convention may apply. See Recovery orders for more information.

When a parenting order is made, each person affected by the order must comply with or follow the order. To understand the obligations when a parenting order is made refer to Parenting orders - obligations, consequences and who can help. If you allege that a parenting order has been contravened you should read the fact sheet Compliance with parenting orders.

The law on contravention of orders is complicated. If a person does not obey an order, the affected person should get legal advice.

If an existing parenting order no longer reflects current arrangements for a child or the other party cannot reasonably comply you can ask the court to make an order to vary the existing order. See Applying to change an existing parenting order above.

If the existing parenting order has been breached the parties should try and resolve the dispute by attending dispute resolution. The Family Relationship Advice Line (FRAL) on 1800 050 321 can help you and the other party work through your disagreement. Remember, except in limited circumstances, you are required to attempt to resolve the matter through family dispute resolution and obtain a certificate before applying to the court.

If an agreement cannot be reached you can apply to the court for the following:

This application is used when you are alleging a breach of a parenting order under Division 13A of Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975. Before filing an Application - Contravention you should consider the result that you want to achieve and obtain legal advice. The remedies available from the Court range from the enforcement of the order to the punishment of a person for failure to obey an order as set out in the fact sheet.

For details on what you need to file see Application - Contravention.

If you do not want the other party punished (e.g. fined or imprisoned) for the breach, but want to see the resumption of the arrangements set out in the order you may be able to file an Application in a Case and the other supporting documents required. See Filing an application with the Court below.

A recovery order is defined in section 67Q of the Family Law Act 1975. If a recovery order is made the court makes an order authorising the AFP to find, recover and deliver the child to the applicant. See Recovery orders for more information.

Before applying to the Court for a recovery order, you should seek legal advice. There are different processes for applying for a recovery order depending on whether you have a current parenting order or a parenting case pending in the Court.

If there is a current parenting orders application pending in the Court or parenting orders were made in the Federal Circuit Court you will need to file an Application in a Case and the other documents required. If there are no parenting orders in place you will need to file an Initiating Application seeking parenting orders at the same time as applying for a recovery order. See Filing an application with the Court below.

In some situations, you may ask the Court to issue other orders (sought in the recovery order application) to help locate the child; for example:

If you believe that a child may be in Australia but you are unsure where, you can apply to the court for a location order. When a location order is made it requires:

  • a person to provide to the Court any information they have or obtain about the child's location; or
  • the Secretary of a Department or an appropriate authority of a Commonwealth instrumentality to provide information about the child's location that is contained or comes into their records (Commonwealth Information Order).

The person (or authority) must provide the information sought by the order as soon as practicable after obtaining the information.

This type of order requires a Commonwealth Government Department, such as Centrelink, to give the Court information about the child's location that is contained in or comes into the records of the department.

A publication order allows the media to publish details and photographs of the missing child and the person they are believed to be with. However, each case is different and the terms of the publication order can vary. This is usually a last resort and you should seek legal advice first.

Further information about recovery orders can also be found in the Australian Federal Police Family Law Kit.

The law recognises the importance of a child's relationship with a grandparent or extended family and friends. For useful information and resources for grandparents and other family members see Grandparents and family members.

A parenting order is a set of orders made by a court about parenting arrangements for a child. If you are a grandparent of a child or any other person concerned with the care, welfare and development of the child/ren, you can apply for a parenting order for the child/ren. See Filing an application with the Court below.

In order to register a change of child's name, you should try and obtain consent from the other parent. If you are unable to obtain consent from the other parent you can file an application with the court, see Filing an application with the Court below. However, an order from the court alone may not be sufficient to achieve a change in the registration of a child's name.

Before filing an application with the courts you should seek legal advice. The legal requirements to register a change of a child's name will vary from state to state. To find out what the legal requirements are, contact the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in your state or territory.

Adoption of children is dealt with under state legislation in the Supreme Court or Children's Court. If the adoption relates to a step-child, then leave of the Family Court of Australia may first need to be sought - you should confirm what is required with the relevant state court.

 NOTE: An application for leave to adopt cannot be filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

S.60G of the Family Law Act 1975 says that subject to subsection (2) of the Family Law Act the court may grant leave for proceedings to be commenced for the adoption of a child by a prescribed adopting parent. In proceedings for leave the Family Court must consider whether granting leave would be in the child's best interests.

In this type of application you should obtain legal advice about who the necessary parties are and what to include in supporting affidavits to make sure relationship issues are addressed.

A party can start court proceedings by filing an initiating application in the Family Court of Australia seeking parenting orders. See How do I apply for parenting orders?

An application for parentage testing is usually sought to determine the parentage of a child in relation to parenting orders or seeking or refuting an application for child support.

Under s.69VA of the Family Law Act 1975, the Court may issue a declaration of parentage that is conclusive evidence of parentage for the purposes of all laws of the Commonwealth. If your application is to determine parentage in relation to seeking parenting orders you should follow the steps above in If you can't agree on parenting orders.

Under s.107 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 the court can make a declaration that a person should not be assessed in respect of the costs of a child because they are not a parent of the child. An application for a declaration of paternity in this situation must be filed within 56 days of the assessment from the Child Support Agency or the applicant can ask for leave to extend this time limit.

Under s.106A of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 the court can make a declaration that a person should be assessed in respect of the costs of the child - for example if you do not have proof of paternity the court can make the declaration that you are entitled to child support. Under s.69W of the Family Law Act 1975 to determine the parentage of child in relation to parenting orders, the court may make an order requiring a parentage testing procedure to be carried out.

If your application is in relation to paying or not paying child support you are not required to file a dispute resolution certificate (60I certificate). However, it is recommended that you file an Affidavit - Non-Filing of Family Dispute Resolution Certificate, to claim an exemption from counselling as a pre-action requirement.

For more information on child support applications refer to Child Support Applications.

 NOTE: you cannot eFile this particular type of application in the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

If the court makes an order for parentage testing, the testing must be undertaken through a DNA laboratory that has been accredited by the Attorney General's Department.

If a child turns 18 while they are in full-time secondary education and there is a child support assessment in place, you can apply to Child Support to extend the assessment. An extension will continue until the last day of that school year. The application to Child Support must be made before the child turns 18, unless there are exceptional circumstances s.151B of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.

In all other cases the Courts can make an order for maintenance, where the maintenance is necessary to enable that child to complete their education; or because of the child's mental or physical disability. An order may be made for a 17 year old child that begins when the child turns 18 - see s.66L of the Family Law Act 1975.

 NOTE: you cannot eFile this particular type of application on the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

For information about applications for financial orders see How do I apply for property and financial orders?

Filing an application with the Court

NOTE: If all parties have reached agreement and want to formalise the agreement to make it legally binding they can apply to the Family Court of Australia for consent orders. See How do I apply for Consent orders for more information.

There are some specific applications which require different documents, for example an Application - Contravention. Generally, when seeking parenting orders, you will need to eFile the following forms and pay the filing fee (see below):

NOTE: that parenting and property/financial orders can be sought in the same Initiating Application.

Helpful hint - For more information about eFiling applications on the Commonwealth Courts Portal see How do I eFile?

If for any reason you cannot eFile the application, follow the instructions on the Initiating Application Kit or Application in a Case and file it and the supporting Affidavit, dispute resolution certificate, Notice of Risk and Financial Statement (if that applies) at a family law registry. You should have all your documents signed, witnessed (if required) and photocopied before you file.

Filing fees

You will be required to pay a filing fee unless you are eligible for an exemption. Refer to the Guidelines for fee exemption, reduction and refund to find out if you are eligible.

Apply for final parenting orders only – $330 (or $0 if eligible for an exemption).

Apply for final and interim parenting orders – $445* (or $0 if eligible for an exemption).

Apply for final parenting and financial orders – $545 (or $0 if eligible for an exemption).

Apply for final and interim parenting and financial orders – $660* (or $0 if eligible for an exemption).

If you are eligible for an exemption general, you should complete the Application for exemption from fees general and attach a photocopy of documentary evidence (both sides).

Helpful hint - If you are eligible for an exemption of fee – general you can complete the online interactive applications within the portal.

If you are not eligible, but payment of the fee will cause you financial hardship you can complete the Application for exemption from fees – financial hardship. Your application will then be considered by the court. For further information, see the publication Guidelines for exemption of court fees.

 If you are applying for an exemption of fee due to financial hardship you cannot eFile your application.

If you have eFiled your application you will be required to pay the filing fee by credit/debit card (visa/mastercard) when you complete the online interactive application. If you file your application by post or in person go to Making payments to the courts for more information.

What will happen after I have filed the application?

If you have eFiled an Initiating Application you will be able to select the court date. If you have filed your application at a registry or eFiled an Application in a Case, the Court will allocate a court date.

You are then required to serve the filed documents on the other parties. See How do I serve family law documents for more information.

If you eFiled the application, you should print a sealed copy of the application so you can serve the respondent. To print the application you should go to Documents filed Image of the Documents Filed buttonand click onAdobe pdf logo to print a copy for service.

If you filed an Initiating Application at a registry, sealed copies will be returned to you for service.

Urgent applications

You can ask the Court to consider an urgent application by seeking appropriately worded orders and providing evidence in a supporting affidavit why the Court should list the matter for an early hearing date or make an urgent order. The Court will consider the application based on the evidence provided and notify you of any further requirements or a listing date. You cannot eFile an urgent application.

In extremely urgent situations you can seek an urgent order to be made ex parte. This means the Court would deal with the matter immediately and without notice to the other party. Ex parte orders are usually only granted in matters where you can substantiate urgency by seeking appropriately worded urgent orders in the application. You will need to explain the grounds on which you are seeking urgent orders in your supporting affidavit. Refer to Part 5 of the Federal Circuit Court Rules 2001. In addition, you should also include a cover letter stating the urgency. State courts also have a limited jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975, you should check with your local state court as to whether they have the jurisdiction to hear and determine your type of application. For example, an urgent application may be heard in a state court in country locations where no other service is available.