April 24, 2023

“Equal shared parental responsibility” is a commonly used term you may have heard during Family Court proceedings involving children.

‘Parental Responsibility’ means all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to their children. Parents make decisions everyday about the welfare and care of their children, ranging from the small day-to-day decisions to the bigger, long-term issues.

When parents are in an intact relationship or if they are separated but there are no parenting orders in place, each parent has parental responsibility for their children which they can exercise separately. This means that either parent can make any decision about their child, from what they eat for lunch to buying them a puppy, to giving consent for medical treatment.

When a Court is asked to make parenting Orders about a child (whether by agreement of the parties or in a contested matter), consideration is given to allocation of parental responsibility, and which Order regarding parental responsibility will be in the child’s best interests.

When making a parenting Order, the Family Law Act provides that a Court must apply a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child.

If an equal shared parental responsibility Order is made, this means the parents must consult and jointly make long-term decisions for the child in relation to matters such as education, health, the child’s name, their religious education and any change in their living arrangements which would make it significantly more difficult for the child to spend time with one or other parent. The day-to-day decisions are then left to each parent when they care for the child.

The presumption that parents should have equal shared parental responsibility does not apply if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent (or a person who lives with a parent of the child) has engaged in child abuse or family violence. In those situations the Court may make an Order for sole parental responsibility to be given to one or other parent, often with other Orders requiring the person with sole parental responsibility to consider the view of the other parent before making decisions. Sole parental responsibility is a topic we will cover in another article.

The impact of an Order for equal shared parental responsibility does not end with who makes the decisions. For example, if the presumption applies, the Court must then also consider certain time arrangements that might be made for the child, including whether that child should live with each parent on an equal-time basis.

It is important when considering parenting orders – whether these orders are to be made by agreement of the parents or by application to the Court if the parents cannot agree – that the issue of parental responsibility is given careful thought by both parties and that Orders are proposed that will best promote the interests of the child.

Our expert solicitors at Shipton & Associates can help separating parents navigate through this process and provide you with advice specific to your situation. If you would like to speak with us or make enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact our office on 9976 5222