The key focus of Family Law in Australia is the “best interests” of children. Australian law focuses on the rights of children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents so that separating from your partner or spouse doesn’t mean that you are separating from your child or children.
Although the terms ‘custody’, ‘residence’, ‘contact’ and ‘access’ are no longer used by Australian family lawyers today, the issues behind the jargon are still on the top of the list of concerns for separating couples, namely:
- Who will the child or children live with?
- How will they spend time with the other parent?
- How will both parents be kept in the loop in regard to important decisions such as education and health?
Shared Parental Responsibility
Equal shared parental responsibility means that both parents have legal rights and responsibilities towards their child. It doesn’t mean that the child will spend half of their time with one parent and half with the other, but that each parent has an equal say in decisions relating to the child in areas such as health and education. Even if the child lives with the other parent you may still have shared parental responsibility.
But doesn’t the law now say that children have to spend equal time with each parent?
No, it doesn’t. The law ensures that the best interests of the children are served first. When considering what is in the children’s best interests, the court has to consider facilitating a meaningful relationship between the children and both of their parents and also to protect the child from harm.
If the court is to provide equal shared responsibility then it will also consider whether equal time for a child between their parents is in the best interests of the child and whether it’s practical. If a Court does not consider that an equal time arrangement is in the child’s best interests or practical, it may look towards the child living with one parent and spending substantial and significant time with the other parent. Such an arrangement might translate to be 4 nights per fortnight rather than 7.
Where Do I Start?
Firstly, get legal advice. Your lawyer will take you through all of the areas which need to be considered and document what you think is a fair approach to arrangements for your children. If your partner is agreeable, your lawyer can help you formalise the document without proceeding to costly court action.
If your differences are unable to be settled, then you will need to commence on the path to having parenting orders issued by the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.
The Family Law Act 1975 requires you to attend family dispute resolution before applying for parenting orders. The accredited family dispute resolution practitioner will issue a certificate that must be filed with the court application and simply states that your differences were unable to be resolved.
If your case does end up in court, a legally binding decision will be made through a hearing where the judge will decide what is in your child’s best interests.
Why Use A Lawyer?
As lawyers experienced in this process we can advise you in regard to the complexities of your specific situation as well as guide you through what can be a stressful and confusing process. We can help take the heat out of a difficult emotional situation and negotiate on your behalf to obtain the best possible result for your child. And if it comes to court, we are deeply familiar with the court system and can use our experience to your advantage.
Contact us to discuss your specific situation in regard to your child with an experienced family lawyer in Toronto, NSW.