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    Parenting arrangements and child “custody”

    We understand that following separation, the care arrangements for your children are your priority. Under the Family Law system, the Court also prioritises the children’s best interests, acknowledging that children have a right to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, provided it is safe to do so.

    Every family is unique. Children’s care arrangements must be specifically tailored to their individual needs, particularly if they have special needs or require mental health support.

    Hopefully both parents understand the needs of their children and have a healthy co-parenting relationship where communication works well. Agreements can be prepared to document these arrangements.

    Unfortunately, not all parents can agree upon what is best for their children. Areas of dispute can include:

    1.     Parental responsibility and how long term or important decisions are to be made for the children, relating to areas such as education, medical treatment and/or religion;

    2.     With whom the children shall live and how much time they will spend with the other parent or other family members;

    3.     Whether the children should travel overseas;

    4.     How to best protect the children in circumstances of family violence, sexual abuse, drug and/or alcohol abuse or mental illness;

    5.     Where the children should live;

    6.     Special medical procedures for children;

    7.     Whether a child’s name should be changed.

    At Dorter Family Lawyers & Mediators, our specialist knowledge equips you to understand and navigate the family law process, to ensure the best outcome for your children and their future.  

    What are parenting arrangements?

    Formerly known as ‘child custody arrangements’, parenting arrangements refer to how children are to be cared for by their parents following a divorce or separation. This covers all decisions that have an affect on the child’s life, such as:

    • Living arrangements
    • Education
    • Religious upbringing
    • Medical decisions
    • Shared time between parents

    When deciding on parenting arrangements, the Family Law Act 1975 requires that all parties involved – parents, lawyers, the Court – make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. Our legal system recognises parenting arrangements documented by three different ways:

    Parenting Plans

    If both parents can come to an agreement about the conditions of their parenting arrangements, they may record the agreement in a parenting plan. This is an informal written document that sets out how the children will be cared for by the parents. 

    While a parenting plan needs to be signed and dated, it does not have to be witnessed or conform to any specific format. However, it is recommended that you seek legal advice before entering into a parenting plan. 

    Importantly, parenting plans are not legally enforceable, and can be changed at any time by a subsequently dated and signed parenting plan.

    Consent Orders 

    Consent orders are a means of making a parenting arrangement legally binding and enforceable. Applying for consent orders requires that you complete the Application for consent orders (do it yourself kit) with your proposed orders attached. An Annexure to draft consent parenting order will also need to be submitted to the Family Court at the same time as the consent orders application. 

    Similar to a parenting plan, consent orders must be dated and signed. While lawyers are not required to apply for consent orders, it is still recommended that you seek legal advice before filing for a formal Court order.

    Consent orders may be superseded by future parenting plans or parenting orders. 

    Parenting Orders

    If both parents cannot come to an agreement over the parenting arrangements, either party may apply to the Court to obtain a legally enforceable parenting order which stipulates the parental responsibilities of both parties and care arrangements for the children.

    However, the law requires that parents should first try to reach an agreement through a family dispute resolution practitioner as a means of finding a mutually agreeable decision without going to Court. Exceptions do exist however, which is why it is important to seek legal advice.

    What must the court consider?

    When making parenting orders, the Court must consider which parenting arrangements are in the best interests of the children.

    Important considerations may include:

    • Protecting children from physical and psychological harm
    • Allowing children to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents
    • Children’s views
    • Potential effects of a change in current living arrangements
    • Practicality of children seeing both parents
    • Each parent’s ability to provide for the children’s physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing
    • Whether either parent has fulfilled or reneged on their parental obligations (e.g. paying child support)

    Parental responsibility

    It is presumed that the it is in the children’s best interests for each parent to have equal shared parental responsibility, unless child abuse or famly violence has occurred. 

    Importantly, equal shared parental responsibility refers to how both parents share in the decision-making of major long-term matters about the children (e.g. name, education, religion), and does not refer to equally shared time. 

    What do parenting orders enforce?

    Parenting orders may include rules and obligations relating to one or more of the following:

    • Which parent the children will live with
    • How much time the children will spend with either parent, and other important people in their life (e.g. grandparents)
    • How parental responsibility will be shared
    • Any other consideration that pertains to the children’s welfare and development

    Here When You Need Us

    If you are considering separation or divorce, or have separated/divorced, and wish to ensure that your children are cared for in a way that puts their best interests first, it is important to seek legal advice from a specialist family lawyer. At Dorter Family Lawyers & Mediators our team is here to help you navigate the process. 

    With proven experience in negotiating parenting arrangements, Dorter Family Lawyers & Mediators is committed to understanding your particular family situation and providing legal assistance to achieve the best outcome for your children and their future.