Can my older child decide?
A common misconception in family law is that that older children have the right to decide the parenting arrangements that suit them.
The reality is that when a Family Law Court is asked to make Orders about parenting arrangements, it must consider the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration. There is nothing in the Act that says that children of any age can “make up their own mind” about what is in their best interests.
What are in a child’s “Best Interests”?
The main considerations for a Court are:
the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents; and
the need to protect the child from harm (physical or psychological) by being exposed or subjected to abuse, neglect or family violence. The protection of children from harm is the most important consideration for a Family Law Court.
If a child is mature enough to have a view about the proposed arrangements, the Court can take those views on board. This does not mean that your child will be called to the Court as a witness in proceedings or even be present at Court during the proceedings.
The Court has a number of ways that it obtains evidence of the child’s views. One way is through a Family Report which may be prepared and provided to the Court after the parties meet with a social worker or psychologist.
The Court can also engage a Family Consultant who can speak with the child and the parents about the proposals and if appropriate, inform the Court of the child’s opinions about the arrangements.
The other way is for the Court to appoint an Independent Children’s lawyer to represent the interests of the child in the proceedings. This Lawyer does not take instructions from the child, but rather makes all necessary enquiries on behalf of the child to assess what arrangements are in the child’s best interests.
Parenting matters are often complicated and stressful for all involved. Seeking early advice can often assist you to consider alternatives to Court proceedings which may help the future parenting arrangements for your children and save you the emotional and financial cost of going to Court.