Before we look at ways that parents can help make the care and living arrangements (formerly known as Child Custody) of their children work, it’s helpful to put some context around the discussion.
In Australia, the law in relation to the care and living arrangements of children when parents separate, falls under the Family Law Act, 1975. This Act underwent some significant amendments in 2006 which shifted the focus towards joint parental responsibility for children and included a presumption that parents have equal parental responsibility - not equal parenting time.
Equal Shared Parental Responsibility.
Includes both parents making decisions in regards to long term matters such as their children’s medical, religious and cultural matters, their education and their living arrangements and change of name.
There isn’t a “one size fits all” care and living arrangement for children when parents separate. The Family Court must consider what is in the children’s best interests. This includes the idea that children benefit from a relationship with both parents, each parent must actively facilitate the others’ relationship with the children and the need to protect children from physical or psychological harm. The 2006 legislative changes were also designed to have both parents meaningfully involved in their children’s lives following separation.
So what can parents do to help make joint care and living arrangements work? Here are seven suggestions:
- Emotional intelligence is crucial when it comes to parenting and as difficult as it may be after a separation, parents should constantly remind themselves that they are the adults. This is a good tool for helping parents put their child’s best interests ahead of their own emotions.
- Acknowledge the positive parental traits of the other parent. Even if parenting styles are distinctly different, it’s helpful to focus on the positives and not the negatives or the differences.
- Don’t make hurtful or threatening comments to one another. These could cause genuine fear and will be counter-productive in helping to normalise and develop meaningful relationships between parents and children.
- Try really hard not to criticise the other parent, alienate the child from the other parent or discuss your conflicts with the children. In many instances, silence is golden and parents have an obligation to encourage and promote the best possible relationships between the child and the other parent - regardless of their own views or feelings.
- Shared time arrangements aren’t easy, but if they are child-focused, flexible and co-operative, then the child is more likely to feel positive. There is no evidence of a link between the amount of shared time and positive outcomes for children, and the law encourages parents to agree on parenting arrangements in order to meet the child’s best interests.
- Attending a post-separation parenting course can help parents to manage their common responsibilities better and build stronger relationships with their child.
- Studies show that children benefit from continuing and regular contact with both parents when parents co-operate, communicate and have low levels of conflict (1).
Separation is never easy but you should always seek reliable, expert legal advice.
An experienced and understanding family law practitioner can be a key asset in finalising even the most complex parenting matters smoothly, fairly and quickly.
If you have any questions about equal shared parental responsibility and living arrangements (child custody) or if you want timely and practical advice from one of the most highly regarded family law firms in Perth, Joondalup and Mandurah, contact Paterson & Dowding by calling 08 9226 3300.
(1) Shared Care Parenting Arrangements Since the 2006 Family Law Reforms: Report for: Australian Government, Attorney-General's Department, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, New South Wales. Cashmore, J., Parkinson, P., Weston, R., Patulny, R., Redmond, G., Qu, L., Baxter,J., M. Rajkovic, M., T. Sitek I. Katz, I. (2010). http://ro.uow.edu.au/artspapers/1352/