A Basic Snap of Children and Family Law in Australia
Children are at the heart of family law in Australia, with a strong focus on their well-being and best interests. Under the Family Law Act 1975, children have a right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, and to be protected from harm.
When it comes to children and family law matters, several key aspects come into play. This article aims to provide an overview of some of these key aspects within the Australian legal framework.
Parental Responsibility: Rights & Obligations
Parental responsibility refers to the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that parents have in relation to their children. It involves making decisions about the child's care, welfare and development. Parental responsibility extends to major long-term decisions such as education, health care, and religious upbringing.
In Australia, both parents typically share equal parental responsibility until the child turns 18, regardless of whether the parents are married, in a de facto relationship, or were never in a relationship to begin with. This means that both parents can independently make decisions about the child.
A Court may decide it is in the best interests of the child to remove parental responsibility from one parent (sole parental responsibility) or both parents. A Court can also decide it is in the best interests of the child to appoint parental responsibility to a legal guardian (such as a grandparent).
It is important to remember that equal shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal time. We discuss this next.
Parenting Time: Ensuring Meaningful Relationships
Parenting time, also known as "live with" or "spend time with" arrangements, focuses on determining how much time a child spends with each parent. The aim is to promote meaningful relationships and maintain ongoing contact between children and both parents, unless it is not in the child's best interests.
There are no hard and fast rules about making arrangements for which parent a child will live with or spend time with after separation, and there is certainly no rule that says a child must spend equal time with each parent or more time with one parent over the other.
At first instance, parents are encouraged to communicate and work together to create their own agreement about where a child will live and how they will spend time with the child, taking into account the child’s individual needs and what is in the child’s best interests. If agreement is reached, parents will not have to go to Court and instead they can just enter into a Parenting Plan or file Consent Orders. If agreement cannot be reached between the parents, and settlement avenues such as mediation have failed, then proceedings will have to be filed in Court whereby a Judge will make a decision.
Best Interests of the Child: Guiding Principle
The best interests of the child is the paramount consideration in family law matters involving children. When making decisions, the Court considers a range of factors to determine what is in the child's best interests. These factors include the child's wishes (considered in light of their age and maturity), their relationship with each parent, their safety and well-being, any cultural or special needs, and the capacity of each parent to meet the child's needs.
Financial Responsibility for Children: Child Support
Both parents have a duty to support their child financially after separation, regardless of who the child lives with. Parents can either manage this privately between themselves or apply for a child support assessment via the Child Support Agency (“CSA”).
The CSA facilitates the assessment and collection of child support payments. The amount of child support is determined by various factors including each parent's income, the number of children, and the parenting arrangements including the number of overnight time with each parent.
A Child's Well-being: Emotional, Physical & Psychological Needs
The well-being of the child is of utmost importance in family law matters. This encompasses their emotional, physical and psychological needs.
It can be hard for children when their parents separate. Parents are encouraged to prioritise their child's well-being and create a supportive environment that promotes their growth, development, overall happiness and safety. As difficult as it might be, it is important for parents not to criticise one another (particularly in front of children) or pressure children to make decisions about their own care.
Understanding some of these key aspects is crucial for navigating family law matters involving children. Remember, each situation is unique and family law can be quite complex. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our friendly family lawyers at Greenleaf Legal today on (02) 8605 3437 so we can provide you with personalised guidance and support throughout your parenting matter.