Today I thought we would talk about children’s issues when couples separate. Since 1996, the Family Law Act was amended whereby the words “custody”, “access” and “guardianship” are no longer used. Court orders in relation to children now include:
Residence – defining the person with whom a child is to live;
Contact – defining the extent of contact between a child and another person;
Specific Issues – defining various aspects of parental responsibility.
Both parents have full responsibility for the children until they reach the age of 18 years unless a Court orders otherwise. This responsibility remains whether or not you decide to remarry or have other children.
If couples agree as to residence and contact I recommend that a written agreement be signed by the parties and filed with the Court. These agreements are known as “Consent Orders”. The reason I recommend this is that unfortunately, sometimes relations between a couple deteriorate after separation and whilst the parties are on good terms these matters should be resolved, especially where the children are young.
If unfortunately, parents can’t agree on matters relating to their children then the matter is referred to the Court and a Judge will make orders specifying with whom the children are to reside and the terms of contact for the non-resident parent.
If the matter is referred to the Court the Judge’s first and foremost concern is “what is in the best interests of the child”, not what is in the best interests of Mum or Dad. What is in the best interests of the child, as regards with whom that child lives with, how often a child has contact (if at all) with the non-resident parent etc.
It is also open to grandparents to make application to the Court for contact with their grandchildren as normally it is in the child’s best interests that they have such contact.