1. Legal terminology
Following legislative change to Australian family law in 2007, commonly used terms such as “child custody”, “child access”, “sole custody”, “joint custody” and “visitation” are no longer in use.
Throughout the process of determining arrangements for children, the key concepts are who a child “lives with”, who a child “spends time with”, who is the primary carer and who has parental responsibility for the child/children.
2. Best interests of the child
The Family Law Act 1975 (the Act) governs family law in Australia. It does not address parental ‘rights’ – in fact, parents do not have ‘rights’ as such.
Instead, the legislation focuses on each parent’s responsibility for their children and so prioritises the child’s best interests over all other considerations.
3. Parental responsibility is equally shared, unless this places a child at risk
The Act presumes that it will be in children’s best interests for both parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the children, unless there is a risk to the children of such an arrangement. Equal shared parental responsibility has a specific meaning and has no relationship to the amount of time each parent spends with the children. Equal shared parental responsibility means that both parents make major long term decisions regarding the children jointly. These decisions specifically relate to education, religious and cultural issues, serious medical treatment, where a child lives and changes to their name.
4. How is the time the child spends with each parent determined?
The amount of time the child spends with a parent is determined by;
a) Parents coming to agreement between themselves, or with the assistance of a mediator or FDR practitioner, and entering either a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders; or
b) If parents are unable to come to agreement a parent can make application to the Family Court for interim and final parenting orders.
5. Support for children and parents
The following services provide support during this difficult time;
a) The Family Relationship Advice Line
Phone 1800 050 321
b) Family Relationships Hotline
Phone 1800 050 321
c) Kids Helpline
Phone 1800 55 1800
This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.