Parents have parental responsibility of their children. This parental responsibility continues until the child reaches the age of 18 or it is removed by way of a Federal Circuit Court or Family Court Order.
Parental Responsibility means a parent is entrusted with all the duties, powers and responsibilities which by law parents have in respect to their children.
This includes the basics such as day to day care and decisions for their child like what the child should eat, what their daily routine should be and what daily activities they should be involved in as well as what are known as the ‘long term major decisions’ in respect to the child. The long term major decisions are classified under the Family Law Act as decisions about a child’s:
- present and future education;
- cultural and religious upbringing;
- name; and
- changes to the child’s living arrangements if such changes affect a child’s ability to spend time with one of their parents.
The default position at law is that both a child’s parents will have parental responsibility unless that responsibility is displaced by a Court Order.
"Equal shared parental responsibility is not always in the best interest of the child. "
In respect to parental responsibility the court can make an order for either ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ or ‘sole parental responsibility’ to one parent on their own. The court may alternatively make an order for someone else (not a parent of the child) to have parental responsibility but only if it believes that it is in the best interests of the child.
Under the Family Law Act there is a presumption that when making an order regarding parental responsibility that it will be ‘equal shared’ parental responsibility. This presumption can however be displaced if the Court determines it is appropriate to do so.
If a Court orders equal shared parental responsibility then the parties must cooperate and consult with one another about any long term major decisions regarding the child or children. This obligation to consult and agree on such major decisions is not required when there is no Court order for equal shared parental responsibility, even though each parent has parental responsibility by default.
Although it may not be Court ordered to consult about such decisions regarding their children, it is certainly desirable for parents to be able to co-parent and equally share their parental responsibility about such issues.
Best interests of the child
Equal shared parental responsibility is not always in the best interest of the child. When a Court is determining orders about children they are to do so with the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.
Circumstances in which a Court may order that one parent have sole parental responsibility for a child include cases where there is a complete breakdown in communication between parents or if the Court is satisfied that one of the parents has engaged in family violence or abuse of the child.
If the Court did make an order for sole parental responsibility, that parent would be able to then make all decisions about the child’s long term major decisions without consultation with the other parent. In respect to the day to day care of the child, each parent would be responsible for making decisions about day to day matters when the child is in their care; for example when the child is spending a weekend the parent who does not have sole parental responsibility.
It is important to mention that after making an order for equal shared parental responsibility the Court must then consider an order for equal shared care, but it does not always do so. The amount of time a child will spend with each parent will be determined by the Court in accordance with what is in the best interests of the child.In some cases that will mean that the child will spend equal time with each party and in other cases it will not. The time a child will spend with each parent is a completely separate issue to that of parental responsibility.