17 January 2018
Parental responsibility is defined as all the duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority which parents have in relation to children (section 61B Family Law Act 1975). Those powers include the power to make decisions about issues affecting a child. For example, where a child should attend school, what sort of medical treatment a child should receive, and what religion a child should practise.
In absence of a court order, both parents have parental responsibility. A Court could order that two parents have equal shared parental responsibility, which means that the parents must consult one another and jointly make long-term decisions concerning the child. The day-to-day decisions, such as what clothes the child will wear and what food the child will eat on any particular day will still rest with the parent who is spending time with the child on that day.
Custody (also known as live with/spend time with arrangements) refers to how a child’s time should be divided between his or her parents. Rarely would a Court order that a child only spend time with one parent and not the other. In absence of a compelling reason such as serious family violence, alcoholism, or drug use by one parent, a Court would ordinarily find that it is in a child’s best interests to spend time with both parents.
Whether a child should spend equal time with each parent or more time with one parent than the other depends on a range of factors including the age of the child, where the parents live in relation to each other and to the child’s school, the child’s relationship with each parent, each parent’s attitude towards parenting and towards one another, etc. Parenting arrangements do not have to remain the same over time. Parents can agree to change these arrangements to suit the needs of the child and to their own needs.
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