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Child Contact & Living Arrangements

When parents separate or divorce, they are expected to make genuine efforts to develop a parenting plan or enter into a parenting order that outlines how they will share parenting responsibilities and make important decisions for their children in the future. The welfare and best interests of the child must always be the paramount consideration in any decisions related to child care arrangements and visitation.

Legal Framework

Child contact and living arrangements in Australia’s family law system are primarily governed by the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). The Act promotes shared parental responsibility, encouraging parents to reach mutually agreeable arrangements regarding their children without the need for court intervention.

It is important to know that there is no such thing as “parental rights” in the Australian law. Parents have responsibilities for their children, but no rights to them. These responsibilities include the requirement that both parents provide financially for their child and do their best to ensure their child’s physical and emotional well-being.

There is also no concept of “child custody” in Australia, only of child “care” or “contact”. While it is often the case that one parent – often the mother – has traditionally had a greater share of the care of children, there is no automatic assumption that this will be the case. The law starts from the assumption that both parents have equal and shared parental responsibility for their children. Generally, there is also a presumption that each parent will spend significant time with their child.

Reaching an Agreement

While the courts encourage parents to negotiate privately about the care of their children, it is not always possible for parents to agree on what is best. In addition, where there are issues such as family violence, one parent may have legitimate concerns about the well-being of the children when in the care of the other parent. In those cases, it may be necessary to engage a lawyer and to seek the help of the courts to make decisions about child contact and living arrangements.

If parents cannot agree on parenting arrangements, they must attend family dispute resolution (FDR) before seeking court intervention (except in cases involving family violence or urgent matters). FDR provides an opportunity for parents to discuss their concerns and explore possible solutions with the help of a neutral third-party mediator.

Going to Court

If FDR fails to resolve the disputes, the parents may apply to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia for parenting orders. The court’s primary consideration is the best interests of the child. It considers several factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s views (if they are mature enough to express them), the child’s safety, and the practicality of the proposed arrangements. The court can also appoint an independent children’s lawyer to represent the child’s best interests in complex cases.

The court may consider the child’s cultural background, Indigenous heritage, or special needs when determining suitable living arrangements. The court can make various types of orders depending on the circumstances. These include equal time with each parent, substantial and significant time with each parent, or a specific order regarding communication and visitation. It is important to know that courts will very rarely order that a child has no contact with one of their parents. Even in cases of family violence, some contact is usually considered to be in the child’s best interests, even if the contact is limited to telephone calls or supervised visitation.

Getting Help for your Parenting Matter

A relationship breakdown is a challenging time, especially when children are involved. Even when you know the choice to separate is right for you, you want to ensure your children’s rights are protected, which is why you should have an experienced, understanding lawyer on your side – one who can negotiate a good outcome for you and your children.

We have been providing family law services for many years throughout Ringwood, Victoria. Fiona is a skilled and knowledgeable negotiator and can assist you to reach workable parenting arrangements that are in your children’s best interests, protect their rights, and keep you out of the courtroom, wherever possible.

To find out how we can help you, email [email protected] or call 03 9870 3252 for a confidential discussion with Fiona who is an experienced family lawyer in Ringwood.