Children and family law


Australian family law dictates that children have the right to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both their parents and to be fully protected from harm. The Australian Family Law Act of 1975 makes no assumptions about the roles of parents and is gender-neutral. The Australian family court, when making decisions about a child, will always aim to act in the best interests of that child.

Parental responsibility.

Both parents normally have parental responsibility for their children regardless of their personal relationship with one another. Therefore, both parents can legitimately make decisions regarding their children. If parents of a child under the age of 18 separate, this responsibility prevails. Parents can voluntarily request a court order for Equal Shared Parental Responsibility over significant issues like where a child attends school, questions of health, and religion. Family court may decide to remove parental responsibility from either or both parents or appoint a legal guardian if it is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

Parenting time.

There are no longer any set rules regarding arrangements for who a child will live with, or spend time with, after the separation of their parents.  The terms custody or contact arrangements are no longer applicable under Australian family law. Usually, it’s best for parents to discuss their child’s needs, and agree together about who a child will live with, and how and when they will spend time with each of their parents. There are a variety of ways that separated parents can ensure that their children maintain relationships with both parents. If parents can reach an agreement themselves on arrangements for the care of their children, there is no need to go to court over this. Nowadays it is possible to decide on a parenting agreement or organise consent orders approved by the family court.

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The best interests of the child.

When making decisions about their children, parents must focus on the best interests of the children. Many separated parents are able to reach an agreement on the care of their children even if this takes lengthy discussions to achieve. However, if agreement proves elusive, family mediation services are available to help parents come to an agreement. If, after mediation, parents still cannot reach such an agreement, a family law court judge will adjudicate based on the best interests of the child.

Financial responsibility for children.

Both parents are financially responsible for their children after separation. Legally, parents can organise this between themselves or they can apply for child support assessment. Services Australia is responsible for administering the child support program to assist parents in providing support for their children.

Focus on the well-being of the children.

It is usually difficult for children when their parents separate. It is important to maintain focus on what is best for the children at all times. It is important for parents not to criticise each other in front of their children, or pressure the children to make decisions about their own care. Children love both of their parents and they should not be put in a situation where they have to choose between parents.

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