Parental Responsibility – What’s Changing?

From May this year, new legislation commences bringing a suite of amendments to family law. These are the most significant changes in 17 years.

One of the key changes is the removal of the current “presumption” that, it is in the best interests of a child for that child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility in relation to making long-term decisions for them unless there is evidence to the contrary. Decisions about education, medical treatment, religion and name changes are common examples of long-term decisions.

The determining factor will soon be a consideration of the child’s best interests, without any presumption being applied as a starting point. It is expected we will still see most commonly orders that result in equal shared parental decision making however there is also likely to be an increase in requests for more flexibility in future parental responsibility Court orders. For example, sole parental responsibility for medical decisions to one parent and shared parental responsibility for all remaining long-term decisions, provided of course this is considered to be in the child’s best interests.

Changes also include amendments to condense the current list of considerations for determining a child’s best interests. The first consideration specified (although not more elevated than the others) is the need to promote the safety of a child and any person who cares for the child, including from being subjected to or exposed to family violence. The amendments further require consideration of any history of family violence, abuse or neglect and any Domestic Violence Order that currently apply, or have applied to the child or a member of the child’s family.

In cases where for safety reasons it is not in a child’s best interest for both parents to have equal shared responsibility, the requirement to rebut a presumption stating otherwise will soon be removed.

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