Equal shared parental responsibility –  

What does it mean for my children? 

Does it mean equal time? 

What decisions can I make for my children? 

The Family Law Act empowers a Court to make parenting orders that are in the best interests of the relevant child. Parenting orders can deal with issues such as with who a child lives with, spends times with, and communicates with and also which parent is responsible for making major decisions in relation to the child’s life. 

When parents separate, there is no requirement that a child lives equally with each of their parents as each family and child is different.   

Under the Family Law Act, there is a presumption that both parents will have an equal parental responsibility—this means that both parents have a say in making decisions about the children’s major long-term issues and decisions such as: 

  1. where a child goes to school and their education 
  1. decisions in relation to the child’s health, especially medical procedures 
  1. changing the child’s name 
  1. authorising a travel document for the child 
  1. changing the child’s living arrangements such as moving interstate.  

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. 

In deciding whether to make a particular parenting order in relation to the children the Court must have regard to the best interests of the children as the paramount consideration. 

Section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975 details how the Courts are to determine what is in the children’s best interests. The primary considerations are: 

  1. the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the children’s parents; and 
  1. the need to protect the children from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence. 

In applying these considerations, the Court will give greater weight to consideration number two. 

The Court will also give consideration to a number of additional considerations. 

Shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal time. Parents will spend equal time with a child only where: 

  • they can agree to this arrangement; or 
  • a court finds that equal time is in the best interests of the child and is the most suitable arrangement. 

If the Court orders for both parents to have equal shared parental responsibility, it must also consider whether it is practical and in the child’s best interests for the child to spend equal time or less than equal time i.e. substantial and significant time with each parent. 

Substantial and significant time will include the children spending weekdays, weekends and holidays with each parent. This involves each parent having meaningful involvement in the child’s daily routine and being involved in significant events and special occasions. To determine whether it is reasonably practical for children to spend equal time of substantial and significant time, the following will be considered: 

  • how far apart the parents live 
  • whether the parents can communicate and cooperate with each other and resolve difficulties, now and in the future, and 
  • the effect on the child of any proposed arrangements.