WHAT IS SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY?
There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to understanding what all the different expressions about parenting mean. The one that confuses people the most is shared parental responsibility.
Firstly, it does not necessarily mean shared time parenting… like when dad gets the kids for week 1 and mum gets them in week 2.
Shared parental responsibility relates to something completely different.
Under the Family Law Act 1975, there is a presumption that both parents will have an equal parental responsibility—that is, they will both have a role in making decisions about major long-term issues such as where a child goes to school or major health issues such as potential surgery. It can also cover things like overseas travel. Shared parental means that parents need to communicate with each other and where one parent has concerns, to work through those before a joint decision is made about something important to the child’s future.
The important thing to note is shared parental isn’t a ‘give in’ for all parents. For example, the presumption does NOT apply if the parent engaged in abuse of the child or family violence. The presumption also does not apply if it is not in “the best interests of the child”.
And what does that mean? I often tell self representers to try and understand what the law says about the best interests of a child by going to the famous section of the Family Law Act known as 60CC.
Here you will find all the things that the court takes into consideration when needing to make a decision about what is in the best interests of the child. I encourage you to read it …and assure you it won’t put you to sleep!
BUT DOESN’T SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY MEAN EQUAL TIME?
Shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal time parenting. Parents will spend equal time with a child only where they can agree to that arrangement or where a court finds that equal time is in the best interests of the child and is the most suitable arrangement.
If parents don’t agree to equal time parenting, and it’s not uncommon, the court might need to ask for some help in making a decision by asking for what is known as a family consultant report. This involves a social worker or more often a psychologist over the course of a half day, interviewing both parents alone and with the child or children. The children are also interviewed alone depending on their age. The consultant then writes a report based on those rather quick observations and that is where the recommendations about co-parenting sometimes go pear shaped.
These reports can be really hit and miss, with one parent feeling they have been portrayed by the family consultant as an inferior parent. Problem is they carry a lot of weight as they are court appointed reports. Where these reports are messy or unfair I often assist self-representers with applications to the court to redress this.
SO WHAT IS A PRIMARY CARER?
Post separation, it is not uncommon for one parent to do more “hands on” parenting than the other. By this I mean the child or children may spend the bulk of the week at one parent’s home and maybe spend weekends with the other parent. (Many variations on this folks.) So the parent who is doing more of that hands on parenting is called the primary carer. In the bulk of cases it is the mother although things are changing guys. Here the parent who isn’t the primary carer is sometimes referred to as the non custodial parent.
However, don’t forget that a primary carer parent still needs to follow the assumption of shared parental responsibility. Time and time again we find some primary carer parents forget that and if left unaddressed can lead to the other parent feeling excluded and alienated. It can also lead that parent to seek orders from the court to address that imbalance. We are often putting together these applications with much success.
NEED LOW COST HELP?
If you’re needing help with getting the parenting balance right and you don’t want to go down the pathway of selling your kidney to pay for a lawyer, we would be happy to assist with any application you might wish to make to the court. Drop our fantastic paralegal a line at and find out how easy it can be to self represent with low cost legal assistance from our legal drafters on your documents, and preparation for court.
It’s something we’ve become very good at over the years.