When a relationship comes to end, there are many things that need to be dealt with – especially when children are involved. It can be difficult for couples to agree on post-separation parenting arrangements, especially when parents are not aware of the process to follow. Each family situation and separation is unique. The law places priority on what arrangements are in the best interests of your child. What may be in the best interests of the parent is not relevant.

The law encourages that a child spends ‘substantial and significant time’ with each parent after a separation. It can be difficult to agree on exactly what these words mean. The law does offer some general guidelines however ‘substantial and significant time’ is a tricky term to understand. Depending upon the age of your child, your decisions should include the views of the child. Parenting arrangements should also be age appropriate. 

If parties cannot agree themselves on parenting arrangements for their child, then all parents are required to attend family dispute resolution (“FDR”) in an endeavour to reach agreement.  Parents cannot approach the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and seek parenting orders without participating in FDR.  There are exceptions to this requirement.

If a parenting agreement cannot be reached at FDR, parents can apply to the Court for parenting orders. The Court will always prioritise the best interests of the child. The Court is required to take many complex factors into account when determining the child’s best interests, one of which may include the child’s wishes about with whom they wish to spend time. However, the wishes of the child and the best interests of the child may not be the same. 

The Court can make an order for the child to spend equal time with their parents, if it is practical to do so and equal time is in the best interests of the child. Factors such as school location and the distance between the parent’s homes is relevant. The relationship between the parents themselves is relevant as is their ability to maintain an equal time arrangement with each other. 

It is recommended that couples try to agree on post separation childcare arrangements with as little legal input as possible, but unfortunately, sometimes, this is not possible. 

If you need advice or guidance on parenting arrangements, please contact the Family Lawyers at Craddock Murray Neuman. 

The law is complex and it changes. The law may have changed between the time this article was written and the time you are reading it.