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Does how much you earn affect a court’s custody decision?

By August 13, 2021February 23rd, 2024No Comments

If you’re going through a parenting dispute, have you ever wondered whether your finances might affect a court decision? Maybe you are a struggling low income single parent ,who provides a loving yet basic home. Meanwhile the other parent is wealthy and can offer travel and lifestyle benefits. Or maybe you earn a good income and save, while your ex spends their all their meagre earnings. Will a judge look at your respective finances to decide who can offer the better environment? Let’s take a look at the question: Does how much you earn affect a court’s custody decision for children?

(Does how much you earn affect a court’s custody decision? Continued)

Sometimes people worry that their income will be a critical factor in the outcome of their parenting litigation. Lower income or lower net worth parents can have the feeling they’ll be at a disadvantage because of it, in the eyes of the court.

It’s true that the costs of going to court to resolve parenting issues may prove prohibitive for some low income parents. Obviously having more resources makes it easier to proceed through the court system with less stress. Income definitely can play role in whether litigation proceeds in the first place, as a lower income parent might not feel as motivated to start a case that they fear will be impossibly costly. On the other hand, sometimes a parent actively wants to avoid their financial responsibilities to their children or ex partner, and therefore may not instigate any proceedings that could lead to formalising the same.

But just because one parent earns more than the other, this doesn’t mean the court will rule in their favour. Having said that, parental income might still be taken into account when a court makes decisions about parenting disputes.

Best interests

When deciding child custody cases, family courts prioritise the best interests of the child involved. This means they must take into account the ‘primary considerations’, being the two chief factors for determining what the best interests are. These are:

  • The benefit to the child of a meaningful relationship with each parent.
  • The need to protect the child from abuse and family violence.

Where these two conflict, the need to protect the child is given greater weight by the court. Following this, the court must also consider any additional factors.

When working out parenting orders, the courts can take into account a virtually limitless array of factors and determine how to weight them in the overall picture. A list of possible factors is described in the Family Law Act, though it is inexhaustive thanks to the catchall at the end, “and any other considerations the court thinks are important”.

Once all the factors are assessed, courts will make a determination as to parental responsibility. After parental responsibility has been allocated, courts will turn to the question of how time with the child ought to be divided, in the child’s best interests.

What is important in parenting matters?

Aside from critical issues like family violence, neglect, drug and alcohol use, or the mental or physical health of the parents, a judge must factor in all kinds of elements that may be relevant in a particular case.

This means exploring the historical relationships of the child to the parents, how the child has been cared for until now, how much each parent has been involved in raising the child and how much they’ve spent time with the child. Looking into parent involvement, the court may also look at how each parent supported the children financially.

However, which parent has the better parenting skills is more relevant to a decision on parenting arrangements than which parent has more money. The courts will ask: Which parent can provide best for the child’s physical, emotional and intellectual needs? Which custodial parent will ensure they foster a relationship between the child and the other parent? What are the parents’ attitudes to the responsibilities of being a parent? And so on.

Do finances matter?

Money obviously matters when it comes to raising children. Parents have to ensure they can provide safe housing, food, medical care and education. So the overall financial stability of households is important. Finances may be very revealing as to the stability of each parent.

But all kinds of families live in all kinds of circumstances and lots of things work, across a wide range of socioeconomic demographics. Therefore, income or finances alone are not usually the deciding factor. After all, parental capacity is about much more than paying bills for extracurriculars.

Courts will look at a parent’s ability to provide for their child. If a parent is unemployed and homeless, this clearly decreases their chances of securing primary custody as they can’t provide housing for their child. But parents who have been unable to work to their full capacity due to childcaring duties will usually not see their lack of income as preventing them being sole carer. The need for spousal and child support may come into play though. At the other end of the spectrum, high-flying professionals who work very long hours should expect that their work schedule would be relevant in working out how to share parenting time. A high income might not be seen as a real benefit if the parent cannot spend much time with the child and care has to be offset to professionals. In that case, a court may find the other parent working less hours (and on a lower income) could provide more direct care.

When else might parental income matter?

Parental income is also relevant when it comes to decisions around child support (through the Child Support Agency) and spousal support (through the family courts). This is especially the case if there is a great disparity between incomes of the parents. If a parenting order means primary custody is handed to a lower income or a non-working spouse, child support and spousal support may be necessary to ensure a child’s needs are met.

So the answer to the question “does how much you earn affect a court’s custody decision?” is: yes, but only in terms of how it impacts on the welfare of the child. Although income and finances are not determinative of a court’s decision, they are certainly factors that may be relevant. And essentially it’s another opportunity to present yourself in a good light, provided you can demonstrate financial stability and how this is in the best interests of the child.

For assistance with a parenting or other family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.

You might also like to read our blog, Getting along for the sake of the kids.

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