What is parental responsibility in family law matters

What is parental responsibility in relation to family law?

When discussing parenting arrangements for your child after separation, you may hear the term 'parental responsibility' being used. What does it mean? Why is it important? Does it govern the amount of time each parent spends with the child/children?

What is parental responsibility?

Section 61B Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) defines parental responsibility as the:

'duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to children'.  

This refers to the major long-term decisions to be made on behalf of your child/children. For example:

  • what school they will attend;
  • what their religious and cultural upbringing will be; and
  • any major health decisions.

These are major long-term issues which a parent may make for a child, from birth until they turn 18 years of age or a court order displaces parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility exists regardless of whether the parents are separated or not.

The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility

Section 61DA Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) states that the court must apply a presumption that it is in the child's best interests for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the children.

If an order for equal shared parental responsibility is made by the court, both parents equally have the duty, power, and responsibility as parents. It does not necessarily mean there is a presumption of equal shared time with the children.

They will need to consult the other parent and try to make a joint decision regarding any major long-term decisions together. Notably, this order only governs major long-term decisions. It does not mean that the parents need to consult each other on the day-to-day care of the children when in their care.

Can the court consider making orders for sole parental responsibility?

Sole parental responsibility means one parent has full responsibility for the long-term decisions for the child. An order for sole parental responsibility will only be made where the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility is rebutted or does not apply.

Further, the court may consider it is in the child's best interest for a sole parental responsibility order to be made. An example of such circumstances would be where the parental relationship is one of high conflict, including family violence and where the parents would be unable to jointly decide on parenting issues.

Does equal parental responsibility mean equal time?

An order for equal shared parental responsibility requires the court to then consider whether the child should spend equal time with the parents or significant and substantial time with the parent the child does not live with.

Equal time and equal parental responsibility do not necessarily go hand in hand unless equal time is both in the child's best interests and is reasonably practicable. 

Get help

It is common for separating or divorcing parents to seek advice and assistance about parenting arrangements.

It is in everyone’s best interests to have an amicable arrangement with regard to raising your children, however, if this is not possible or if some more structure is required, our family lawyers can assist you in obtaining parenting orders that best reflect your requirements and are in the best interests of your children.

Feel free to get in touch directly with today’s blog writer, family lawyer Bridget Schultz for advice and assistance.

Or you can contact us through reception by phone or email to arrange a consultation.

Phone: 02 9997 2111

Email:  info@ealawyers.com.au

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This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact E&A Lawyers.

Get in touch with the author:
Bridget Schultz


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