In most cases, parents and other family members understand the need to put a child’s safety and emotional well-being first. Parenting arrangements after separation or divorce (formerly referred to as “child custody”, “residence” , “contact” or even “access”) need to be considered and decided upon following a relationship breakdown. By law, the best interests of the child are always the most important consideration. When considering parenting arrangements after spouse relationship breaks down, the Court must also consider the child’s well-being and weigh up the value of living with the parent with aspects such as quality of life, access to education etc. living with other relatives or designated carers.
Where a child will live, how often they spend time with each of their parents, the sharing of special event days such as birthdays, Christmas, and school holidays, and how parents make decisions about the care of their children once separated, are all issues of great importance which should be included in any agreement about children. The role that grandparents, step parents, and other important people in the lives of children must also be considered, and appropriately addressed according to the law.
It may sound complicated, and at times it can be. However, all of our child custody lawyers are extremely mindful of the delicate nature of parenting issues and decisions which need to be made upon separation for children. Our high degree of expertise in children’s matters, and our familiarity with the requirements of the Court, allows us to act swiftly and effectively to ensure parenting issues can be resolved in a timely fashion consistent with the best interests of your child or children.
Watts McCray’s child support lawyers are also regularly involved in acting independently for children when the Court deems it appropriate.
There is no such thing as ‘child custody’. Why? Because parents do not own their children. Parents have an obligation to protect their children’s rights until those children are old enough to make their own way in the world. At law that is until the age of 18 years. Custody is still used by some people when they really mean where the child lives or spends most of their time. The Family Courts use the term live with to describe what used to be called custody and spend time with to describe what used to be called access. The other term commonly used in parenting matters is parental responsibility; that is the term to describe all the rights associated with making important decisions about a child’s welfare.
When the parents of the child separate, differences in their views as to how to raise their child tend to become much bigger issues. The law requires parents to attempt to resolve those issues by mediation with a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP). If parents can’t reach agreement, then it may be necessary to go to Court to get resolution of the dispute between them about how to raise their child.
Before meeting with the FDRP, it is a good idea to get advice from a family lawyer to discuss how the Family Law Act deals with parenting disputes. That lawyer can provide a helpful framework for a parent to participate in the mediation.
The cost depends on the issues in dispute. If, for example, parents can’t agree on which school their child should attend, that is a less complex issue than a full blown dispute over which parent their child should live with. Some issues can be resolved in the matter of months. Sometimes disputes can go on for much longer. Lawyers will generally charge for the time they spend helping a parent with their dispute. Whether the lawyer charges on an agreed lump sum or whether they charge per hour engaged, the bigger the dispute the more it costs.
The general rule is that each person pays their own lawyer’s fees and the Court fees in parenting disputes. Sometimes, if the Court believes that one parent has acted in a manner which has been completely unreasonable and without any objective merit, the Court may order that person to pay a portion of the other parent’s legal fees. Bear in mind though that costs orders in parenting matters are unusual.
The Family Law Act is gender neutral. There is no inbuilt bias towards mothers or fathers. The Court is directed by the law to make a decision in a parenting dispute which is in the best interest the child as determined by the Court on an objective basis. The Court makes that decision after hearing the evidence from each of the parents and often from an independent social scientist that meets with the child and the parents and writes a recommendation and makes a recommendation to the Judge. Sometimes, in complex cases, the Court also appoints a separate lawyer to represent the child.
After weighing up all of the evidence, if it supports a shared care arrangement, then that may well be the result so long as the Court believes that it is practical to do so. That means, that the parents don’t live too far apart and they have similar parenting styles that will allow their child to grow and develop with consistent help from each parent.
Under current parenting law, it’s presumed that both parents will have equal shared parental responsibility for their child or children. That means they are required to consult each other and make joint decisions about major issues affecting the child such as education, health, housing, and religion. In some situations equal shared parental responsibility may not be in the child’s best interests, and you will need to discuss other aspects of parenting arrangements with one of our solicitors.
Our solicitors can also advise you on what parenting arrangements might also be best for your child or children upon separation, including where they are to live, with whom they are to live, and how often they see the other parent.
There is no current law which requires children to spend equal time with both parents in all cases. Living arrangements, and the allocation of time between parents and significant others, is subject to the child’s best interests in all cases.
The Family Law Act allows for any person who has an interest in the care, welfare and development of a child to make an application about that child. This means that persons who are not the parents may apply to the Court for Orders, including grandparents.
The Court can make Orders which it considers to be in the best interests of the children, despite the apparent conflict with the wishes or the interests of either of the parents or children. Such an order literally deals only with when a child lives with a parent, or spends time with a parent. It does not affect other responsibilities that parents have in making decisions about children including medical, dental and educational matters.
Parenting laws state that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance. If both parties cannot agree, a Judge will make a decision after considering all the relevant factors. In some cases the Court can require that the children be separately represented by their own lawyer.
The Lawyers at Watts McCray have a high degree of expertise in relation to children’s matters and are regularly involved in acting for children.
If there is a fear that one party may remove the child from the other, or if the child has actually been removed, an urgent Order can be obtained from the Court to prevent the child from being taken away, to have the child returned or to locate the child. This is important if there is a possibility that the child may be taken overseas. The Lawyers at Watts McCray are highly skilled in these situations, due to their familiarity with the requirements of the Court.
If you have any questions regarding parenting arrangements, please contact our friendly team for assistance.