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How Parenting Disputes Are Resolved?

If you have children of a relationship that has just broken down there will be a storm of emotions, mainly fear of the unknown. Compounding this fear will be the unknown of what is to happen with your children now and in the future. What do you need to consider in coming to an agreement with the other parent for the needs of your child or children?

It’s important at the outset to understand the paramount consideration in determining parenting arrangements (by the court, by consent or otherwise) is the best interests of the child. Essentially you must objectively consider what is in the best interests of your child rather than your best interests.

It’s a provocative concept given you will most likely be of the belief that your child’s best interests align with living with you or what you consider to be their best interest. After all, you are their parent you know the child best.

The Family Law Act

The Family Law Act is there to guide parties on what must be considered and how we determine the best interests of the child when considering future parenting arrangements.

Chief amongst the considerations include the benefit to the child having a meaningful relationship if both of the child’s parents and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm.

At its core, most family law matters involving children are an argument over where a child should live and how much time, and in what manner, should the child spend with the other parent.

It is not simply a 50/50 arrangement once you separate as in many cases that is not in the child’s best interests.

There are many factors that come into account when considering parenting arrangements that can only be discussed in person with us as each case, most especially with kids, is unique. It is your children and your family and what works for you may not work for others.

So what do you need to decide?

Parenting orders are a set of orders about the parenting arrangements for the child. The court can make parenting orders based on an agreement between the parties which are made into consent orders or a Judge will determine orders at or after trial.

A parenting order (and any parenting agreement) will deal with the following:-

  1. who the child should live with;
  2. how much time should the child spend with the other parent;
  3. the allocation f parental responsibility;
  4. how the child will communicate with a parent they do not live with, or other people;
  5. any other aspect of the care, welfare and development of the child.

For the most part, parents will exercise joint parental responsibility which means each parent must consult each other about any major long term issue and make a genuine effort to reach a joint decision about it. An order for sole parental responsibility may be made in certain matters although the presumption is that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to exercise joint parental responsibility.

Major long term issues include the child’s education, religious and cultural upbringing, the child’s health, name and changes to the child’s living arrangements that would make it significantly more difficult to spend time with a parent.

The above does not concern day to day care issues. You don’t need to consult your former partner, nor should you, on what the kids are doing during your day to day routine with them.

The above presumption does not apply in cases of family violence. If there is a history or allegation of family violence we need to know about it immediately.

The next step in determining the parenting arrangements is the often argued time with parents.

Is it equal time or significant and substantial? Each family are different and have their own unique circumstances. Despite a relationship breakdown, if two parents can still work together and communicate effectively for the best interest of the child, and it is practical, then yes an equal time arrangement can and should work. If there is open and ongoing hostility, allegations of family violence and impracticality seldom would an equal time arrangement be in the child’s best interests.

What does equal time mean?

Often people elect a “week about” approach, for instance from after school Friday to before school the next Friday and then off to the other parent for the week. For others perhaps it is alternate weekends that are in the child’s best interests with some time during each week for the non-resident parent to spend time with the child. It is usual to have two different arrangements during the school term and holidays, for instance in the majority of cases an equal holiday time is appropriate. Equally, it may be inappropriate for a variety of reasons why equal time would not work during the school term.

Other considerations or orders to be made will be how often and how will a child communicate with the other? Does the child spend their birthday with both parents or does it rotate? Are there special religious, cultural or family days that you would like to spend with your child that may fall outside the ‘usual time’ you have? How will you resolve any disputes that come up?

These are all common questions that must be answered to get a comprehensive plan in place for your child. Not every case requires a court order, indeed, many don’t. A parenting plan will often suffice if there is a mutually respectful relationship between the parents with the focus on the child.

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