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Whether you were married, in a de facto relationship, or were never together, if you have a child with someone and then separate from the other parent, in the eyes of the law you continue to have shared responsibility to raise that child until they are 18 years of age.
The Family Law Act 1975 (‘the Act’) gives children the right to enjoy a “meaningful relationship” with each of their parents. This concern, as well as protecting a child from physical or psychological harm, informs a court’s consideration of the “best interests of the child”, the guiding principle of the Act.
Shared parental responsibility means both parents making the important decisions in the best interests of their child, from where they go to school, how they manage their health, sporting activities, extended family interaction, religious observance and much more.
One common misconception about shared parental responsibility, however, is that equal responsibility means equal time with each parent. There is no law or rule that determines that must be the case.
How is time with each parent decided?
The best-case scenario is that after separation, both parents can come to their own, mutually satisfactory agreement about how they share the responsibility of raising their children. This arrangement might take account of the fact one parent works full-time while the other doesn’t, or that one lives close to the children’s school, while the other lives further away.
The individual needs of the children should dictate how much time they spend with each parent, and this may not always be a 50:50 split.
Such an agreement might be reached on an informal basis, or through agreement reached at a mediation between the parents. Mediation will ideally be conducted by a specialist family law mediator, which your legal representative can organise.
Either way avoids the need to go to court, which costs more money, takes more time, and creates more stress for both parents and children alike. If you can reach an agreement without the need to go to court, it can be formalised by making a parenting plan you both agree to abide by, or obtaining Consent Orders from the court which makes the agreement legally binding on both parties.
When parents can’t agree
If separated parents can’t formulate their own agreement, a judge in a family law court will likely be called on to make a decision about how much time the children spend with each parent. Again, this decision will be based on the best interests of the child in accordance with the Family Law Act.
A judge will consider a number of factors among which are the relationship of a child to each parent, as well as their relationship with extended family members (grandparents, etc); the extent to which each parent has fulfilled their parental obligations to date; the capacity of each parent to care and provide for the child; the likely effect of separation on the child; and the child’s own wishes, depending on their age and maturity.
As with living arrangements, both parents can agree on their own arrangement about financial support given both have a duty to financially provide for their child after separation, regardless of with whom the child lives. This, of course, may depend on the employment status of one or both parents.
If parents can’t agree on the financial support arrangement, they can apply to the Department of Human Services for a child support assessment. A fairly complex formula is used to determine this amount and it’s best to consult your legal representative or visit the child support section of the department’s website for further guidance.
Helpful legal advice
Whether you need help reaching agreement with your ex-partner on shared parenting responsibilities, representation in court, or guidance on your rights and responsibilities, our specialist family lawyers at South Geldard Lawyers in Rockhampton can help. We have the experience to provide easy-to-comprehend, practical and understanding advice tailored to your particular circumstance. Contact us on (07) 4936 9100 or through our website to arrange a fixed fee first appointment.
It is important to seek specific advice regarding your circumstances as this fact sheet provides general information only and does not constitute legal advice.