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What is ‘Parental Responsibility’?

Parental responsibility refers to the entirety of the duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority with which parents, by law, have in regards to their children. While seemingly straightforward at the outset, parental responsibilities become more complicated when forcibly divided by courts during divorce or separation proceedings. Whereas it’s generally preferable that parental responsibility is shared and close to equal, the court will determine parental responsibility on a case by case basis in accordance with what is in the best interests of the child in cases of divorce or separation.

What is included in parental responsibility?

All decisions surrounding child care are included in parental responsibility, ranging from mundane day-to-day decisions to longer term ones. The clothes the child wears, the food the child eats, the activities the child participates in, the school the child attends, the religion the child practices… all are included in the large umbrella of parental responsibility. Other responsibilities of the parents include the ability to:

  • represent their child in any legal proceedings on their behalf;
  • consent to the adoption of the child;
  • discipline;
  • upbringing, religious practices, and education;
  • child maintenance and caregiving (necessities);
  • ensuring school attendance.

Equal shared parental responsibility

There is a general presumption that equal shared parental responsibility is the preference of the court absent some exception. This determination means that parents will need to cooperate in order to make long-term decisions regarding their child’s care, upbringing, and future. However, the short-term decisions (the day-to-day ones) will become the sole responsibility of the parent who is caring for the child. Equal shared parental responsibility does not necessarily mean or will not guarantee that the child will spend equal time with each parent.

An exception where the court will not make an order for equal shared parental responsibility is if there is violence involved and/or any risk of harm to the child.  In these circumstances, sole parental responsibility may be ordered for one of the carers (who does not pose any risk) of the children to the exclusion of the other carer.

Arrangements between care-givers

Whether you are a parent or other adult responsible for the care of the children, arrangements will need to be made for the children in question as to the amount of time the children spend with each parent/guardian. There are different ways to make these arrangements (whether oral or in writing) including:

  • an informal agreement;
  • by way of a signed parenting plan; or
  • Formal orders of the Family and Federal Circuit Court.

In the event that the parents or guardians of the children cannot agree on the proper course of action to care for the child, or cannot communicate in an effective way, either party can request that a court make a ruling that determines the parenting and arrangements for the children.

Child protection orders

If a minor child (under the age of 18) leaves home, the child may be required to return either by their parents or by the court. If a parent or guardian makes a complaint that a minor child has left the home, the police and Child Services may investigate. If it is then determined that the child is in need of protection, the police or an authorised Child Safety Services officer may apply for a child protection order for the child in question. If the minor child is able to support themselves, secure adequate housing, is not breaking the law (or likely to break the law), and is not posing a threat to themselves or anyone else, the child protection order may be dismissed.