The Family Law Act provides that children are entitled to the benefit of a meaningful relationship with both of their parents. Some parents enter into an “equal time” arrangement for their child thinking that is what the law states and not because they believe it is the best arrangement for their child. In many cases, equal time is the least suitable option and may lead to poor practical and emotional outcomes for all involved.
The Family Law Act sets out the things that a Court must consider when determining what is in a child’s best interest. The most important consideration is that if necessary, the Orders protect a child from physical or psychological harm, abuse, neglect or family violence.
Other matters that a Court considers when deciding on Orders are the age and maturity of the child and the capacity of each of the parents to provide for needs and fulfil the responsibilities of parenting.
In some cases, the child’s views on the proposed arrangements can be considered as long as they are reasonable.
The law encourages separated parents to reach agreement about the parenting arrangements through Family Dispute Resolution without having to go to Court. This is often referred to as “mediation”. You are not required to attend if there has been family violence or abuse of a child or it is not practical to attend, for example, due to distance.
If agreement can be reached at mediation, the parents may wish to enter into a Parenting Plan to document the agreement.
A Parenting Plan is a written agreement setting out the arrangements for the care of the children. Parenting Plans generally cover issues such as where the children will live and the time the children will spend with each parent and other people such as grandparents. It can also cover issues such as holiday times, school issues and illness.
A Parenting Plan is not the same as a Court Order. However, a Court is able to have regard to the terms of the Parenting Plan if later required to make Orders.
The paramount consideration for all parenting decisions is the best interests of the child.
Family separation can be a stressful time. It is a good idea to seek legal advice so you know what the options are and to help focus on the best outcome for your children.