Both parents have full responsibility for their children until they reach 18, unless a Court orders otherwise. This is not changed in any way as a result of a change in your relationship with your partner, for example, if you decide to separate or remarry.
The law places a heavy emphasis on the desirability of parents reaching an agreement about the arrangements for their children. Court proceedings in relation to children should be regarded as being the last resort.
From 1 July 2006, Family Relationship Centres opened in various locations around Australia to provide families with information about relationships and separation, including the need to agree on arrangements regarding children. Click here for a list of Family Relationship Centres. These Centres provide up to 3 hours of free mediation and thereafter they charge a fee.
As Family Relationship Centres are phased in around the country, the steps which parties must take to try and resolve matters regarding their children by agreement before commencing court proceedings will alter.
Until 30 June 2007, parties will need to at least comply with the "pre-action procedures" established by the Judges of the Family Court. A copy of the pre-action procedures is available on the Family Court website.
From 1 July 2007, most people will need to have a certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner as to whether a genuine effort has been made to resolve the matter, before they will be able to start court proceedings.
If you cannot agree on the arrangements for your children, you can apply to the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court to determine who is responsible for what. These orders are called parenting orders.
They are of four types:
A parent, a child or anyone else concerned with the welfare of the child can apply to the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court for a parenting order. For example, this applies to grandparents or step parents.
It’s going to cost you less, in time, money and emotional distress, and be easier on your children, if you both agree on the arrangements you wish to make for your children after you separate.
There are a number of ways of formalising these agreements, although you are not obliged to do so. One way, is to ask the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court to make parenting orders by consent. Another option is to enter into a written Parenting Plan which records the agreed arrangement. You should discuss the strengths and weaknessess of all of the options with your lawyer.
The issues involved in the care, welfare and development of your children can be complex, and any decisions you make now can have significant implications for the future. You should talk to your lawyer to ensure that any agreement reached will be binding, even if your former partner has a change of attitude in the future.