In any parenting dispute, there are normally issues in relation to one of three categories of issues:
- Who makes decisions for a child;
- What the daily living arrangements are for the child; and
- Other peripheral matters that make things work – like communication protocols and changeover arrangements.
The Family Law Act refers to the concept of decision making for children as “parental responsibility”.
If parents can’t decide on who makes decisions for children, and the matter is litigated, the Court MUST start by presuming that it is best for children to have both parents making decisions for children together, unless there is evidence of child abuse or domestic violence. Despite this initial presumption, the Court can decide that it is not in the best interests of a child for parents to make decisions together in other circumstances also.
If the Court orders that parents should have equal shared parental responsibility, this means that if a decision has to be made about a major long term issue, like schooling or medical matters, the parents need to share information and try to come to a joint decision. It also means that unless there is an emergency, a decision in relation to a major long term issue should not be made by one parent without consultation with the other parent.
In some cases, the Court may make an Order that a parent has sole parental responsibility, or that they have sole parental responsibility in relation to certain aspects of the child’s life, for example, health or education. If a parent has sole parental responsibility, there is no need to come to a joint decision.
If you are trying to navigate your way through a parenting dispute, one of the most critical issues to sort out is who makes decisions for your children, and how. It’s important to get legal advice about this as soon as possible.