The notion of parental responsibility will inevitably arise in family law disputes involving the parenting arrangements of your children. As such, you must be well informed of what this phrase encapsulates to have the best prospect of remaining a part of your child’s life. The purpose of this article is to discuss everything you need to know about equal shared parental responsibility and what it practically means for you.
Before discussing equal shared parental responsibility, it is vital to understand the definition of parental responsibility according to the law. Under the Family Law Act, parental responsibility refers to “All the duties, powers responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have concerning children.”
As such, parental responsibility encapsulates the decision making power of parents over major long-term choices in the lives of their children, including their:
- Living arrangements
- Time spent with each parent
- Medical decisions
- Any changes to the child’s name
Things To Consider Before Proceeding To Court
The notion of equal shared parental responsibility only exists in the courtroom setting. As such, before an application is made to the court to determine ‘parental responsibility – parents are usually required to attend a mediation session to resolve the matter without the assistance of the court. This is done because the courtrooms and The Family Court are inundated with cases in Australia. So for the sake of efficiency, it would be in the best interests of parents to resolve the issue amicably in a mediation session or suffer the consequences of awaiting months between court hearings and expensive legal fees which accompany the process.
What Is The Presumption Of Equal Shared Parental Responsibility
When the court is considering and making parenting orders, the starting point they will proceed within their decision-making is the presumption that it is in the child’s best interests for each parent to have equal shared parental responsibility. This is in line with s61DA of the Family Law Act 1975 and is for the child’s benefit of having a meaningful relationship with each parent.
Practically, suppose equal shared parental responsibility was the outcome of the court’s decision. In that case, this means that parents must make a genuine effort to cooperate and consult with their child’s other parent. Accordingly, parents must work cooperatively whenever making major long-term decisions about their mutual children. For example, if one parent wishes to change where the child goes to school, primary residence, or make a medical decision about the child, they will first discuss the matter with the other parent.
When Does The Presumption Not Apply?
The presumption only exists because the court presumes that it is in the child’s best interests to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. This means that the court only considers the welfare, mental wellbeing and overall benefits of the child having a particular parent be involved in their life, and not the other way around.
The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility does not apply when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child’s parent has engaged in child abuse or family violence. These are also grounds to skip the mediation session and proceed directly to court.
What Are The Best Interests Of The Child?
In determining the best interests of the child, the court takes into consideration several matters.
The most important considerations are:
- The benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents
- Whether there is a need to protect the child from a parent who is violent, physically abusive or psychologically abusive
- The views and opinions of the child. These will be given more or less weight depending on their maturity, age and level of understanding of the situation.
- The effect that the change in the child’s circumstances will have on them
- The characteristics of the child such as their maturity, lifestyle, background, gender and culture.
- The current relationship each parent has with the child
- The willingness of each parent to facilitate an ongoing relationship with the child, including the ability to work together with the other parent
What Is Sole Parental Responsibility?
As the name suggests, sole parental responsibility is when only one parent has ‘custody’ of the child and holds all the control over the majority of major-long term decisions regarding the child.
In such situations, the parent who does not have sole parental responsibility may be excluded entirely from contacting the other parent and children in the worst cases or have limited visitation rights. Sole parental responsibility also means that the parent who has custody of the child will not need to consult with the other parent regarding the significant decisions for the child.
Importance of Seeking Legal Advice
When the court considers the notion of equal shared parental responsibility, it is essential to remember that the primary reasoning behind their decision is the child’s best interests, not the parent’s. If you have a matter involving parenting arrangements escalating to court, you must obtain legal representation from an experienced family lawyer.
Here at JB Solicitors, we’ll make the process as pain-free as possible. We have fixed-fee pricing for family law, giving you a clear sense of the costs from the start, and we will be sure to help you out every step of the way. With years of experience under our belt, we pride ourselves on making each client’s family law experience as positive as possible.
Contact JB Solicitors today to speak with one of our friendly and experienced family lawyers.
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