Parenting is a tough gig. Trying to raise a child under normal circumstances is a challenging enough prospect for any parent. Parenting with your ex-spouse can take it to a whole new level.
Separated parents generally want to maximize the amount of time they get to spend with their children, and contributions to their lives. There is a huge focus by parents on what they are missing out on when sharing parental duties with an ex-spouse.
Family law in Australia places significant value on a child’s right to have both parents play a role in their life, and to build a relationship with both parents. The court holds these considerations to be of paramount importance, and this continues to be the case when families have separated and parents no longer live together, and remains true even if the child spends more time with one parent than the other.
When the court makes a parenting order, it applies a presumption that in the majority of cases it is in the child’s best interests that there be ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ exercised by both parents.
What is Equal Shared parental responsibility?
An order for equal shared parental responsibility requires both parents to consult each other on the major long-term issues concerning the child. These issues include the child’s education, religious & cultural upbringing, health, name changes and any issues concerning the care, welfare and development of the child.
One of the challenges of making these types of decisions is that in some instances they can impact negatively on one parent’s overall time with a child, and this brings us back to whether the decision is in the child’s best interests.
An example can be found in a scenario whereby one parent wants to continue a line of religious upbringing with the child, and another parent wishes to cease. There could be implications for both parents in their own social groups that have flow-on effects to the child. In some instances, families can be ostracised by their religious organisation for breaking up, or for making changes to the children’s religious upbringing. What might be in one parent’s interests may not be aligned to that of the child’s, and could result in a child losing some key relationships of their own.
Failure to reach agreement
Where the parents cannot reach agreement for one reason or another, the option of seeking to have the issue determined by the court will need to be considered. Before this happens, the first port of call for parents in a dispute such as this is to attend a family dispute resolution service.
Organisations such as Relationships Australia and Centacare conduct a family mediation aimed at trying to resolve these issues and keep the parents out of court.
Ultimately, going through the court to resolve parenting matters places the issue in the hands of a judge and results in both parents losing significant control over the outcome. More often than not, it’s in the child’s best interests if both parents can achieve an outcome outside of court, that both can claim ownership to. Such an outcome is more likely to have a better impact on the future working relationships of all involved.