Blended families are very common in Australia and they include families with step-parents, step-children, step-siblings or half-siblings. Blended families may cause challenges to family dynamics. However, some children develop close and loving relationships with their stepparents, and their step-parent’s family and these relationships are very important to the child.
It is important to consider the individual circumstances of each matter as blended families can impact how the court determines what parenting arrangements are in the best interests of the children.
Determining what is in the child’s best interests
When the Court is tasked with determining what is in the best interests of children, it must consider two primary factors:
- The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents; and
- The need to protect a child from physical or psychological harm.
The court must consider certain additional factors, set out in section 60CC(3) of the Family Law Act, that include:
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each of the child’s parents and other persons – this will include the child’s relationship with their step-parent and the step-parent’s family and half/or half-siblings.
- The likely effect of any changes in the child’s circumstances, including the likely effect on the child of any separation from either of their parents of any other child or another person – this is particularly relevant where the child primarily resides within a Blended Household and the other parent seeks to change those arrangements.
- Also, the court will consider the likely effect on a child where one parent seeks to change the child’s primary residence to a Blended Household. There may be practical difficulties with this, such as establishing appropriate sleeping arrangements when step-siblings are not overly familiar with one another.
- Any Family Violence involving the child or member of the child’s family – the Court will take into consideration any family violence involving members of the child’s blended family and will assess any risk to the child.
The court will also consider any views expressed by the child and other fact or circumstance that the court considers relevant when determining what orders are in the child’s best interests. Therefore, it is important to properly address the circumstances of your blended household, including information about the child’s relationship with their blended family, when preparing your matter to be considered by the court.
Other parenting issues
Aside from the impact of blended families on the determination of what is in the best interests of children, one of the most common issues about blended families that we come across as family lawyers is how to introduce a child to a new partner or their children.
Whilst every case is different, we typically recommend discussing the potential introduction with the other parent so that your approach is consistent. Also, if you are having difficulties agreeing with the other parent about how to approach the introduction or the child is having difficulties adjusting to the prospect of a blended family, a qualified expert such as a counsellor is advisable to support the child, and you, through the process.
Lastly, step-parents can play a vital role in the life of a child and may have been involved in much of the child’s life. A step-parent may apply for Parenting Orders for the child as a person concerned with the care, welfare or development of the child. The court must determine the best interest of the child when considering an application for parenting orders made by a step-parent.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.