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We are often asked questions about parental responsibility and the interplay with decision making for parents who are separated. For example, we are often asked questions about whether one parent has more decision making “power” over the other or the extent of consultation that is required between parents about decisions concerning their children.

Parental responsibility gives a person duties, powers, responsibilities or authority in law in relation to a child. Generally speaking, unless a Court orders otherwise (or the parties agree through a Parenting Plan), under the Family Law Act, each of the parents of a child who is not 18 has parental responsibility for the children. This has effect despite any changes in the nature of the relationship of the child’s parents so for example, it is not affected or altered by the parents separating or re-marrying. So this means that neither parent has any overriding control over the other in terms of making decisions. This can often cause uncertainty and distress for parents.

Parents are not required to reach agreement with each other about day to day issues such as what a child eats for breakfast or what time they go to bed but in most cases, it is reasonable for parents to consult and reach agreement about long term matters such as schooling, significant health issues, relocation (where one parent wants to move away with a child) etc.

The law can intervene when parents cannot agree and where a Court application is necessary – if for example one parent wants to change their child’s surname or move schools or perhaps move interstate. The Court will generally work on the presumption (and make an order) that parents have equal shared parental responsibility for their child or children. This puts a positive obligation on parents to consult and reach agreement about long term decisions concerning their children. However, this presumption of equal shared parental responsibility can be rebutted in cases of family violence or abuse. The Court can make an order that one parent has sole parental responsibility for a child. The Court can also make an order for a “non-parent” to have parental responsibility.

Orders relating to parental responsibility have important and long-term consequences. Even without orders for parental responsibility, some parents may need specialised advice about their particular situation and what their options are concerning any decisions relating to their children.

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