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The Family Law Act has changed many times over the years, making it difficult for people with no legal experience to understand. Anyone considering custody arrangements for their child should seek legal advice from an expert in family law.
Changes to the Family Law Act
The most significant changes to the Family Law Act occurred with the introduction of the “shared parenting” legislation in 2006. More recently, in 2012, amendments were made to the law for matters involving “family violence”.
Other changes to the Family Law Act include:
- Changes in terminology to remove “residence” and “contact” and introduce “lives with” and “spends time with”
- New considerations when determining a child’s arrangements (“equal time” or “substantial and significant time” form a part of these considerations)
- The establishment of Family Relationship Centres in 2006
- The introduction of Parenting Plans in 2006
- Broadened definitions of “family violence” and “abuse” in 2012.
So the law no longer uses the term custody when determining parenting arrangements. For ease of understanding however we will use this term in this outline.
These alterations have significantly impacted parenting outcomes relating to child custody disputes. If you are trying to negotiate a child custody agreement, it’s essential to get legal advice and to take the Act’s most recent changes into consideration.
Family Dispute Resolutions
All parties involved in a child custody matter must attend Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) if their dispute is to go to court. If the parenting dispute is not going to court then FDR is voluntary. FDR is designed to resolve custody matters out of court. Through mediation, parents can come to an agreement on their child’s future arrangements.
If FDR fails to resolve the matter, a child custody lawyer can help parents arrange further negotiations. Should these negotiations also fail to produce an agreement, the matter will most likely end up in court.
Children and the Law
The child’s rights are the most important thing in child custody matters. To protect children, the court prioritises the following basic principles:
- Children have the right to be properly cared for and protected from harm
- If possible, both parents should be meaningfully engaged in their children’s lives
- Parents are responsible for caring for their children.
What Does the Court Consider When Deciding Child Custody?
The court considers a range of factors before deciding on a child custody matter. The court must first consider if an ‘equal time’ arrangement is appropriate or failing that if, a ‘significant and substantial’ time arrangement is appropriate. It does this by looking at the ‘best interest’ factors. This includes matters such as, the child’s wishes, the current living arrangements and many more. The court must also consider if the arrangements proposed are ‘reasonably practicable’.
Each case is unique, but anything to do with a child’s wellbeing can impact the final decision.
What Is Parental Responsibility and How Is It Relevant?
The law presumes that both parents have shared parental responsibility.
Under a shared parental responsibility arrangement, parents play an equally important role in deciding the big issues in a child’s life such as, religion and health. The court will only change the presumption of shared parental responsibility if it is not in a child’s best interests (e.g. if a parent has engaged in abuse or family violence), in which case the court will order sole parental responsibility to one parent.
Will the Child’s Preferences Be Considered?
Children in Queensland do not need to meet a specific age requirement before their wishes can influence a child custody matter. If a child expresses a wish as to which parent they want to live with, their emotional maturity will need to be assessed.
Even though the views of young children are of interest, the court is more likely to seriously consider and give more weight to the opinion of a child in their mid-to-late teens. Should a child’s wishes change as they grow older, a custody agreement can be altered to suit their needs.
Speak to One of Queensland’s Largest Family Law Firms
Rather than trying to take on a child custody matter by yourself, we can be on your side throughout the entire process. To speak with one of our experienced family lawyers, please contact our Brisbane office today. If you urgently need legal advice relating to a child custody matter, we will be happy to speak with you over the phone, via email, or you can attend an appointment in person.