Being a parent can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. However, often parents will face difficult circumstances such as divorce or separation that may detract from attending to the full responsibilities and duties towards a child according to law. At LAC lawyers, we can provide a clear guide as to your full rights and responsibilities as a parent under the family law system.
Fundamental parental responsibilities
Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), every parent has equal responsibility for the care, welfare and development of each of their children until the age of 18.This fundamental responsibility exists regardless of whether or not parents are married or whether there are any changes in the parents’ relationship,such as separation or remarriage.
Resolving issues concerning parental responsibility
There are a variety of ways in which you and your partner can resolve parenting issues about your children.The first thing to remember is that a child does not belong to either one of you. Children have a right to know and be cared for by both parents and a right to have regular contact with their parents and other ‘significant’ people. Once that has been accepted,you will be in a stronger position to consider your options.
Recently, the government proposed changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) outlined in the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Bill 2005,increasing joint parental responsibility in the event of a marriage breakdown.The changes were in response to a finding that there were too many children growing up with little or no involvement of both parents in their lives.
The changes encourage parents, advisers, mediators and the courts to consider sharing parenting time in appropriate cases. Parents will now be encouraged to be jointly responsible in important decision-making processes for their children and to consult together on issues such as education and health issues. Stricter parenting orders such as the imposition of cost orders and “make up” time are also designed to compel greater joint parental obligations.
The recent changes also emphasise a less adversarial approach to the family law system. Parents on the verge of a marital break-down will be encouraged to attend dispute resolution and develop parenting plans before taking the matter to court. This would make the Family Court a last resort to handle only the tenacious matters.
What the court can order
If parents have tried all avenues of dispute resolution and still cannot reach an agreement as to the proper arrangements for their children, the Court will intervene and determine the parties’ parental responsibilities via “parenting orders.” Any person who has an interest in the care, welfare and development of a child can apply under the Family Law Act for a parenting order.
Parenting orders come in a number of shapes and sizes:
>> Residence order: – Determines who is responsible for where a child will live.
>> Contact order: – Determines contact between a child and a parent or another person
>> Specific issue order: – Deals with other aspects of parental responsibility including the day-to-day care of a child, or the child’s educational, medical or long-term needs.
>> Child maintenance order: – Determines the arrangements for the financial support of a child.
A child cannot be taken overseas without a court order or the written consent of the other parent or guardian. An application seeking an order to prevent the child’s removal from Australia can be made to the court.
What the court considers
The Family Law Act emphasises that arrangements which involve joint responsibilities and co-operation between parents must be in the “best interests of the child”. Courts exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act will take into account any factor that has a bearing on a child’s welfare, care and development including:
>> The relationship of the child with both parents.
>> The child’s wishes. The weight the court will give to the child’s wishes will vary according to factors such as the age of the child.
>> The likely effect on the child of changes in the child’s circumstances.
>> The practicality and cost of the child having contact with a parent.
>> The capacity of each parent to care for the child, including providing for the child’s emotional and intellectual needs.
>> The child’s age, maturity, sex and background, including any need to maintain a connection with a particular lifestyle or culture.
>> Any need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm
>> The attitude of the parents to the child and to their parenting responsibilities
>> Family violence
Responsible parents choose responsible lawyers
A good family lawyer will be able to advise you on your legal rights and obligations with respect to your child’s best interests.A family lawyer will represent your interests in obtaining a parenting order and where appropriate, will also advise you on alternative forms of dispute resolution and pursue these on your behalf. To find out more about your parental obligations and responsibilities under the family law system, speak to us at LAC lawyers, to ensure you fulfil your child’s best interests.