Parental responsibility for a child is what a lot of people think of as ‘custody.’ Australian family law calls legal responsibility for a child parental responsibility. The person or person who have parental responsibility for a child make all the major decisions about the child’s life. This includes:
- What school they should attend;
- What medical treatment they should receive;
- Whether they should be raised with a particular religion;
- What name they should be known by.
Equal shared parental responsibility
Where there is no court order in place, the parents of a child have equal shared parental responsibility and therefore should consult with each other in relation to these issues and attempt to jointly reach a decision that is in the best interests of the children.
Under the Family Law Act, there is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. However, this presumption does not apply where there has been family violence, abuse of the child or abuse of another child in the family by a parent.
Sole parental responsibility
The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility can be rebutted with evidence that it is not in the children’s best interests. If the court decides that equal shared parental responsibility is not appropriate, it will decide which parent should make the major decisions about the children and may make an order for sole parental responsibility. This means that one parent can make all of the major decisions affecting the children without consulting the other parent.
Sometimes the court has concerns about the ability of the parents to reach joint decisions but still wants to ensure that both parents have some involvement in the decision making process. In those cases, it may make a conditional order for sole parental responsibility. A conditional order provides for one parent to make the decisions, but requires that parent to first ask for the other parent’s opinion about the issue, and take that opinion into account when making the final decision.
Similarly, some families may have difficulty reaching joint decisions about one aspect of a child’s life but no difficulty reaching decisions about all other issues. In that situation, the court has the power to order that one parent make the decisions about a particular issue (for example, the child’s education), but that the parents otherwise share parental responsibility equally.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.