The phrase ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ is one that can be easily misunderstood to have the same meaning as ‘equal time with the children’. It is not unusual for parents or individuals with children that are subject to parenting matters before the Court to hear this phrase and sometimes be confused. As such, it is important for parties separating, and non-parent applicants before the Court, to understand the meaning of equal shared parental responsibility.

When making a parenting order, the Court applies a rebuttable 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. Parental responsibility refers to all duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which parents have in relation to their children. These responsibilities and duties that parents have for their children include long term decisions such as determining the children’s religion and making decisions about the child’s health and education.

This then means, unless the Court orders otherwise, it is presumed every parent has this parental responsibility and, as such, parents that have separated or divorced ought to share major decision-making regarding the children. It should be understood that although parental responsibility places an obligation of responsibility on the parent, it does not confer an automatic and absolute right of a parent towards the child. Under Australian legislation, the best interests of the child are paramount to the Court’s decision-making.  It must be in the child’s best interests for an order to be made that both parents have equal shared parental responsibility.  If such an order is made, the Court must then determine whether an order that the child spend equal time with both parents is in the child’s best interests and should be made.  In a lot of cases, for a lot of reasons, this is not reasonably practicable and other time arrangements must be considered.

Orders for parental responsibility in relation to a child are not just for parents.  Such orders can be made in favour of a child’s grandparent(s) or any other person concerned with the child’s care, welfare and development.

If you have recently separated from your spouse or de facto partner, or have a child in your life whose long term care you are concerned about, contact us today for a reduced fixed fee initial consultation to discuss your options.  We have a great depth of experience in children’s matters, including acting for grandparents and non-parent applicants before the Court, and will provide you with no-nonsense, pragmatic advice.   Visit our website for information on our services and contact details.

First published 11 October 2016