You may disagree about which parent the children should live with primarily, or whether the children should live equally between both parents. Perhaps you have concerns about the other parent. Perhaps the children have particular needs or requirements that should be factored into parenting arrangements.
If a Court is asked to make a decision about parenting matters, they are required to consider the children’s “best interests” as the paramount consideration. In deciding what is in the children’s best interests, the Court must primarily consider the benefit to the children in having a meaningful relationship with both parents, as well as the need to protect the children from harm (physical and psychological). There are many other factors that the Court can take into account when determining the best interests of a child.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and each family’s circumstances will be different. For example, when one parent is a FIFO worker or lives interstate, appropriate arrangements for the children may be different to when both parents live close by.
If you disagree about what the arrangements for the children should be, in most cases, couples should first attempt Family Dispute Resolution, which can be arranged through your local Family Relationships Centre. You should also seek legal advice, especially if you have particular concerns relating to the care of your children.
If you can reach agreement (with or without Family Dispute Resolution) you should consider formalising the terms of your agreement. Although things might be amicable with your former partner or spouse now, that may not always be the case. Over the years I have seen many informal arrangements fall apart because:
• One or both parents re-partner, and the new partner is not liked by the children or the other parent for whatever reason;• A new child is born of a new relationship suddenly half-sibling relationships also need to be taken into account;
• Disputes about child support payments; and
• Children’s needs changing as they get older.
We can assist you in resolving any parenting dispute you may have, and formalising any agreement you may reach, in an appropriate way. A formal-looking document is not always binding or enforceable, so you should seek legal advice before signing a parenting document.
If Family Dispute Resolution is unsuccessful or inappropriate, then you may need to make an Application to the Court for Parenting Orders. Litigation can be stressful, time consuming and expensive but may be the only option available.
Remember, the focus should always remain on the children’s best interest.