When your relationship breaks down, child custody can be a delicate issue. It can cause a lot of stress for you and your children. Family lawyers and other professionals can offer advise on how you can assist your children in these difficult times. The Court can make parenting orders for you, but it will be better for you and your child if you can reach agreements on parental arrangements and responsibilities.
In this article we will briefly look at parenting arrangements and orders, and explore some of the ways you can help your child in these difficult times. We also answer the question whether fathers have equal rights.
In terms of the Family Law Act both parents are responsible for the child’s welfare. Both parents have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility refers to your duty, authority and influence you will have in regards to your children. The status of your relationship is irrelevant, and you remain responsible as a parent until your child is 18 or even older.
Parenting orders are governed by the Family Law Act 1975 and the Family Court of Australia is responsible for administering parenting orders. In times of conflict it might be difficult to reach agreement on parenting responsibilities. The Courts, however, encourage parents to set aside their differences and reach agreements that serve the best interest of their children.
Parenting orders should include the living arrangements of the children, how much time the child can spend with each parent and other family members, communication between parties and cover general areas of parental responsibilities.
Parents can reach verbal agreements, where parties come to a mutual understanding and express the terms of their parenting arrangements verbally. You can also clarify and formalize the terms of your arrangements by drawing up a written agreement. None of these methods however are enforceable by law. Legally enforceable parenting orders must be in writing, signed by both parties and witnessed by a third party. And it needs to be confirmed and enforced by the Court.
The Court will always consider the best interest of the child.
In determining the best interest of the child it will consider the following factors:
Due to the natural physical bond mothers have with their children in early childhood, some may feel that the law is prejudiced against fathers. The law however applies equally to fathers and mothers when determining their rights and responsibilities in relations to the best interest of the child. Science and the law recognize that a child needs a stable and consistent relationship with both the mother and the father.
A breakup is unsettling and upsetting for any child. Their future seems uncertain and unpredictable. You can help your child to deal with the stress and cope with the changes. This will prepare your child and provide a sense of comfort and guidance to make the change easier.
What can you do?
Talk to your children about your current situation. Tell them honestly what is happening and discuss the change that is to come. Listen to their concerns and their wishes.
Assure your children that both parents love them and that you will place their best interest first.
Avoid arguing and fighting in front of the children, or expose them to tension. Sort out your disagreements in private.
Be there for your child. Provide continuous emotional support.
Both parents, mothers and fathers, have equal rights and responsibilities to see and care for their children. Both parents have the responsibility to help their children through these difficult times.