"ARRANGEMENTS IN CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS"
13 Mar 2012
This week’s column looks at some of the issues that can be taken into account by the Court when making Parenting Orders.
The Best Interests of the Child
When a Court is asked to make Orders about the parenting arrangements, it must regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration. This means that the child’s best interests take priority over all other matters, including the wishes of either parent.
How Are the Best Interests of a Child Determined?
The main issues that a Court will consider are:
- The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents; and
- The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm by being exposed or subjected to abuse, neglect or family violence.
The Court can take into account any fact or circumstance when reaching a decision.
If the child is mature enough to have a view about the proposed arrangements, the
Court can take those views on board along with a number of other factors such as
each parent’s attitude to parenting and the likely effect of any change in circumstances,
including any separation from either parent.
What Is a “Meaningful Relationship?”
The question of what is a “meaningful relationship” is not defined in the Family Law Act. Each family is unique and the circumstances of each family situation need to be considered. The Family Courts have said that “meaningful” relates to significant times rather than the amount of time. The aim is to make Orders that enable the child to develop a close and loving relationship with each parent, when it is in the child’s best interests for this to occur.
If there are problems in the family with violence or abuse, the Court will look at these allegations in the context of protecting the child from physical or emotional harm.
Both parents are legally responsible for their children. This responsibility remains in place, regardless of whether the parents are together or separate. A Court or a Parenting Plan can change this responsibility if it is more appropriate for only one parent to make the major decisions for the child.
Sharing parental responsibility means both parents are required to make the big decisions for the child together. Decisions about the child’s education, health, religion and other major issues must be decided by both parents if they share the parental responsibility.
Working It Out
The Family Law Act sets out a process for separated parents to attend Family Dispute Resolution and attempt to resolve the parenting arrangements themselves. Most parents are best placed to understand what is going to be in the best interests of their children and what is going to work for the family into the future. Putting the child’s best interests at the forefront of decision-making can help parents resolve the parenting arrangements themselves.
Not every family is suitable for Dispute Resolution. If there are issues with violence or abuse you are not required to attend mediation.
Every family’s situation is different. What works for some families may not work for you and your children. Seeking legal advice about your situation may help you to focus on the best interests of your child and assist you and the other parent to work out the arrangements together.
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