Family law parenting matters cover issues regarding the arrangements for children after a marriage or de facto partnership breaks down. Major considerations will include where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, who will make decisions for them, and specific issues relating to education or healthcare. This can be a confronting time, as what used to be the daily ‘norm’ for your children can turn into an emotional challenge. However, while you and your partner may not see eye to eye anymore, you are both still parents to your children and you’ll need to be able to co-parent from different households. This is why it’s important to seek legal advice from an experienced child custody lawyer in Canberra for your specific situation.
How can we make parenting arrangements?
Australian family law requires that all decisions concerning children must be made in their best interests and, in most cases will require consideration of the benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents. Having discussions with your former partner about how you are going to co-parent effectively is a great start to moving forward in these difficult circumstances. Mediators, family dispute resolution practitioners and family lawyers can all play a part in helping to achieve workable arrangements that are in your children’s best interests.
If you and your former partner can reach an agreement in relation to your parenting arrangements, you can formalise this through a parenting plan or consent orders.
A parenting plan sets out the agreement reached between you and your ex-partner regarding care arrangements for your children. The parenting plan should be in writing, signed, and dated by both parties. Parenting plans are not legally enforceable, however, if your matter is subsequently litigated in Court, the Court will consider an existing parenting plan.
If you have reached an agreement about the care of the children, the Court can formalise the agreement in consent orders which are legally enforceable. Generally, the Court must be satisfied that the proposed arrangements are reasonably practicable and in the best interest of the child or children.
What if we can’t agree?
There are various dispute resolution processes – negotiation, mediation, family dispute resolution – that can help you and your ex-partner agree on suitable arrangements for your children that are in their best interests. We can provide you with options and represent you in negotiations.
In Australia, there is generally a presumption that it is best for children to have an active relationship with both parents. There is no concept of parental ‘rights’, only of parental ‘responsibilities’. There is also no such thing as ‘custody’ of a child, only their ‘care’.
The starting point is that both parents have equal and shared responsibility for their children, meaning that each parent is equally responsible for their care and support. Shared parental responsibility does not necessarily mean that a child will spend half of their time with each parent, however, there is an expectation that each parent will spend at least ‘significant’ time with their children.
The presumption that a child should have an active relationship with both parents can be rebutted in circumstances such as significant domestic violence or severe substance abuse in the home. However, it is important to know that even when these circumstances exist, a court is unlikely to make a no-contact order. Contact may be supervised or otherwise made safe for the child (such as restricted to telephone), but it is extremely rare for a court to sever all contact between a child and their parent.
Going to Court
Parenting disputes may be determined by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Before applying to Court for parenting orders you will be required to attend family dispute resolution. If this does not resolve your matter, the Court will hear evidence and make orders in accordance with the best interests of the child.
The court process can take some time and the Court may make interim orders (i.e., orders that stay in place until the Court can properly hear your matter). To understand the child’s views, the Court may order a family consultant to interview the child and family and write a report or appoint an independent children’s lawyer to represent the child’s interests.
Other matters that a court will hear include recovery orders, relocation disputes or Hague Convention (international abduction) matters.
Speak to a Child Custody Lawyer in Canberra
In Australia, parents have a responsibility to financially support their children, both biological and adopted, no matter what might have happened between the parents. Even parents who have no contact with their children may be required to pay child support to those who care for them. Various factors are considered in determining how much one parent is to pay the other for the financial support of a child. Some factors include considerations of the child’s age, how much time a child spends with each parent and each party’s income. A child support assessment may be calculated through Services Australia (Child Support), or the parties can enter into a private agreement dealing with how the costs of raising a child should be divided.
Parenting matters can be emotional and complex, however with the right help and guidance, co-parenting arrangements can be implemented to ensure they are workable for all parties while keeping the best interests of your children at the forefront. If you need assistance, contact one of our child custody lawyers in Canberra at [email protected] or call 02 6230 0199 for expert legal advice.