Parenting arrangements after a FIFO marriage breakup
January 21, 2019
FIFO is a way of life for many West Australian families, but it can take its toll on relationships. Physical distance between couples, the added responsibility on one partner who often has to assume the role of a single parent and the difficulties that couples experience in adjusting between weeks on and weeks off can all put a strain on a relationship and eventually cause marriages to break up.
Reaching an agreement in FIFO families about where the children are to live after separation presents unique challenges that are not common in other families. In FIFO families, there is likely to be one parent who spends regular or significant amounts of time away from his or her children. Whilst the FIFO parent will want to maintain a close relationship with the children post separation, an unpredictable roster or rotational work arrangement may complicate parenting arrangements.
Generally speaking, where a couple is separating and one is working on a FIFO roster, parenting arrangements should be able to be made to accommodate that roster. However, an experienced family lawyer will understand that there are a number of other factors that need to be taken into account, including the age of the children and their schooling requirements. Working out parenting arrangements in these situations becomes a balancing act – making sure that the children’s best interests are being met, that they spend an appropriate amount of time with each parent and that the arrangements that are made on paper are actually workable in real-life situations.
As is the case with all parenting matters, the law requires that consideration of the best interests of the child or children is paramount. There are a number of factors that the Family Court will take into account when making this determination, including as a priority the benefit of a child having a meaningful relationship with both parents and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm. Relevantly for FIFO families, the court will also consider the practical difficulty and expense of a child spending time with and communicating with a parent.
The law aims to ensure that, where possible, children have the opportunity to know and spend time with both parents. If parents agree on arrangements for their children, there is no need to go to court. An agreement can be documented in a written parenting plan or through an application for consent orders. However, if they cannot agree, parents will be required to attend at the Family Court and a judicial officer will make decisions about what is in the best interests of the child or children and where they are to live.
Separation is hard enough and the added complication of a FIFO lifestyle when it comes to working out parenting arrangements can be a bridge too far for some people. It’s always best to get professional help early on, and that includes seeking advice from an experienced family lawyer. In most cases, the earlier you obtain legal advice, the better the outcome. At Paterson & Dowding we have a number of experienced practitioners, including Accredited Family Law Specialists, who can provide you with practical advice on parenting arrangements after a FIFO marriage breakup. With offices in Perth and Joondalup, we also assist with mediation and family dispute resolution to help you to resolve your dispute without having to go to court.
Free Seminar – Family Law Myth Busters
January 14, 2019
Do you want to avoid a messy and costly divorce?
Join us at one of our free seminars in locations across the metropolitan area. To learn more click on the flyer below or to book your place visit http://www.eventbrite.com.au and search for ‘suburban’
Family Law Developments –What are the likely trends in family law for 2019?
December 19, 2018
We have asked our expert panel here at Paterson & Dowding to report on legal developments in family law for the coming year.
Lucy Thomas is a Director and Accredited Family Law Specialist who was recently again named a Pre-eminent Lawyer in Parenting, Custody and Children’s Matters and as a Recommended Family & Divorce Lawyer in the Doyle’s Guide for 2018. She has developed a practice which embraces mediation and alternative dispute resolution, as well as being a highly regarded advocate in Family Court litigation.
Craig Taylor is a Director and Accredited Family Law Specialist who has practised as a family lawyer since the early 1990s, taking instructions in all property related matters ranging from small estates to large, complex financial disputes involving family trusts, trading companies, businesses and superannuation. Craig was also ranked this year as a Recommended Family & Divorce Lawyer in the Doyle’s Guide.
Here’s what Lucy and Craig have to say about significant and emerging issues in family law in Western Australia.
What are likely to be the most significant legislative and regulatory developments in family law in 2019?
Craig: We are hoping that changes will finally be made to allow de facto couples in WA to split their superannuation in the event of a separation. Unlike the rest of Australia, this option is currently not available in WA as the result of a long standing impasse between the State and Federal governments. The Federal Attorney-General has recently agreed to make changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (WA) via a limited referral of power to enable the Family Court of WA to determine a division of superannuation interests held by de facto couples in financial proceedings. We therefore hope that amendments to the Family Law Act will indeed be made in 2019 even though we may have a change of government at the next Federal election.
Lucy: The other major development is the proposed review of the family law system by the Australian Law Reform Commission. Although the majority of the changes proposed by the Federal government primarily affect courts in the other states and territories, there are a number of proposals that will have an effect here in WA. There has not been a comprehensive review of the Family Law Act since its commencement in 1975 and it will be important to ensure that we focus on collaboration, coordination and integration between the Court and family law services, particularly in relation to family violence and child protection.
What wider community issues do you think are relevant to the practice of family law in WA in 2019?
Lucy: I am increasingly concerned about recent reports that WA has become Australia’s “Ice State” with wastewater tests showing that we have the highest level of meth-amphetamine drug use in the country. The problem appears to be of particular concern in regional centres. Drug addiction problems can have a huge impact on families, and anecdotally it appears that drug abuse issues are becoming common in Family Court proceedings. As an Independent Children’s Lawyer I am increasingly having to request orders for random drug testing to ensure that children are protected from physical and psychological harm as a result of a parent’s illicit drug use.
Craig: I worry that unless international markets start to change direction, we are going to see more West Australian home owners missing their mortgage payments. This has an obvious impact on family law financial disputes and increases the complexity of cases where the matrimonial home is subject to a notice from the bank that the home loan is in arrears. Clients will need to seek advice and take action as quickly as possible if they are in the process of separating and at the same time having difficulty meeting their mortgage repayments. There will also be a flow-on effect with the Court having to deal with an increasing number of interim applications relating to the sale of the former matrimonial home.
What are likely to be the most important changes to family law practice in the future, and why?
Craig: I think we are going to see a continuation of the trend towards matters being resolved by mediation and agreement, rather than by the Court. If the economy continues to deflate, we may also see a further increase in the number of self-represented litigants. Self-represented litigants typically use up more of the Court’s resources as they require assistance with court procedure, access to support services, Court etiquette and the preparation of documents. The practice of family law needs to reflect these trends by looking closer at mediation and collaborative law as options to resolve disputes.
Lucy: Amendments made to the Family Law Rules in 2016 mean that we are slowly moving towards a more comprehensive approach to family law arbitration for financial matters. With the Family Court under continued pressure to deal with the demands of an increasing and complex case load, arbitration offers a simpler and cheaper option for the resolution of disputes. Parties can refer all or part of a dispute to an arbitrator for a determination, either by a private agreement or by referral from the Court. Family Court litigation should always be an option of last resort as it can lead to high levels of stress and costs. Arbitration has a number of advantages including that it is private and confidential, timely, allows parties to have a say in the process and provides for a more prompt decision.
 You can view the Terms of Reference at https://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/family-law-system/terms-reference.
Family Lawyers supporting the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal
December 18, 2018
One of our family lawyers, Chad Heslop, is passionate about supporting the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal. He asked his colleagues at Paterson & Dowding to give generously to the cause.
The Christmas Appeal allows the Salvation Army to shelter those with no-where to sleep, provide gifts to children who would otherwise get none and give hampers to those unable to afford basic meals.
As you can see from the photo the staff at P&D were more than happy to assist.
Patricia Schrape appointed Senior Associate
December 17, 2018
Paterson & Dowding are delighted the appointment of a new Senior Associate, Patricia Schrape.
Patricia joined Paterson & Dowding in June 2018 as an Associate. Since joining the firm, Patricia has worked on both simple and complex parenting and financial matters including assisting clients with court representation and financial agreements.
Congratulations from the Directors and staff at Paterson & Dowding.