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Your relationship may have come to an end, but that does not stop you from being a parent. Joint decisions will still need to be made about how to raise your child and about important long-term decisions such as schooling, important health matters, religious upbringing or moving away. Under family law, the main focus is what is in your child’s best interests.

Under the Family Law Act 1975, there are two main factors when considering a child’s best interests:

  1. Do the arrangements allow for a meaningful relationship with both parents?
  2. Is the child protected from psychical and psychological harm? (This includes neglect and witnessing or experiencing violence or being exposed to emotional harm)

Your child’s safety is the most important factor under the law and takes priority over the meaningful relationship requirement.

Equal Parental Responsibility Versus Equal Time

Absent any Court Order, both parents continue to have the same “parental responsibility” they always had.   However, the law generally requires separated parents to consult and reach agreement about major decisions for their child. These may include areas like:

  • Where the child attends school;
  • What religion will be practiced at home;
  • Major health decisions (e.g. operations);
  • Moving away from the other parent (say interstate or at a significant distance).

In most cases, a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility will apply however this presumption can be rebutted under the law in certain circumstances such as family violence or if it would not be in a child’s best interests.

Even though there is a presumption in most cases for equal shared parental responsibility, this does not mean that there is a presumption of equal time (or any arrangement for a child to spend time with either parent).  A child is entitled to have a meaningful relationship with both parents so long as it is safe and any arrangement also needs to be reasonably practical and in a child’s best interests.  For example, parents that live interstate will have different arrangements to parents that live close to each other; parents that have a young child or children may have different arrangements to parents of older children. Examples of factors to consider include when organising parenting arrangements include:

  • The age of your child;
  • The developmental and emotional needs of your child;
  • Parents’ work arrangements;
  • Parents’ living arrangements;
  • Your child’s relationship with their siblings including step-siblings;
  • Your child’s relationship with other significant persons including grandparents;
  • Family violence matters;
  • The attitude of each parent on their parenting responsibilities, including child support matters;

The above list is not exhaustive.

If you are unsure about how parental responsibility applies in your circumstances or if you need advice about parenting arrangements more generally, we can advise you as to your particular circumstances.

Suite 2 Ground Floor 11 London Circuit Canberra City

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