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“Parental responsibility” in family law—what does it mean?

By February 27, 2017No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

At Alliance Legal, we sometimes find there is a bit of confusion in clients around what the term “equal shared parental responsibility” means, and a misconception that shared parental responsibility equates to shared time with a child.

So what does the term “parental responsibility” mean? Parental responsibility refers to all duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which parents have by law in relation to their children until they turn 18 years of age. This refers to long term decisions (schooling, health or medical issues, religion etc) rather than day to day decisions (such as regarding food habits, clothing, other issues of everyday life) or.

An order for equal shared parental responsibility means parents must cooperate and make joint decisions on long term matters of significance, but day to day decisions are to remain the responsibility of the parent who has the child at the time.

Parental responsibility can be “equally shared” by both parents or one parent can have “sole” parental responsibility, but under the Family Law Act, there is a presumption for a court to make an order for equal shared parental responsibility unless there are circumstances warranting an exception.

The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility may not apply if a court finds a parent has been engaged in family violence or other child abuse or neglect issues. A court may also order against the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility if parents are unable to communicate effectively. If an order for sole parental responsibility is made, that parent is deemed responsible for the long term, major decisions about the child’s upbringing, while each parent retains responsibility to day to day care decisions while the child is with them.

A court will formalise parenting arrangements for a child by making consent orders that deal with who the child will live with, how much time they will spend with other significant people such as grandparents, how parental responsibility is to be allocated and any other aspect of the care, welfare and development of the child.

One of the big misconceptions is that an order for equal shared parental responsibility means a child will spend equal amounts of time with each parent. While that is a consideration the court must then take into account if equal shared parental responsibility is ordered, such decisions regarding how a child will spend time with each parent take a whole range of factors into account, with the child’s best interests foremost at all times.

A court will focus on ‘primary considerations’—the two main factors used to determine a child’s best interests. These are:

  1. The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with each parent, and
  2. The need to protect the child from neglect, abuse and family violence.

Additional factors a court must consider include factors like the extent to which a parent has been actively involved in a child’s life and has maintained the child, the child’s wishes, how any change will affect the child, among other factors.

Factors that work against an equal time arrangement being ordered include a child’s age, if the parents live far away from each other, and if the parents have a high conflict relationship impeding effective communication about the child. There is no set formula for arrangements for spending time with each parent, and a court will ultimately make orders that reflect what it sees as the best interests of the child.

Read more about parental responsibility here:

If you require assistance with parenting orders or another 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 details about how to obtain correct legal advice please arrange a free conference with Alliance Family Law.)


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