The amendments in the Family Law Act placed emphasis on the equal shared parental responsibility of parents for their children. Parental responsibility pertains to the duties, power and authority that parents have in relation to their children. It is presumed to be in the best interest of the child for him to have a meaningful relationship with both his parents. These principles have also changed the way we look at child custody.
Child custody refers to the care, control and maintenance of child which is awarded by the court to one of the parents. This is the usual concept of child custody but with the amendments in the Family Law Act parents are exercising joint custody over their child unless the court would rule otherwise. However, the more appropriate term is not joint custody but equal shared parental responsibility. Also, instead of using the term “custody” the law uses “lives with” and “spends time with”.
A de facto couple who separate are required to continue to exercise parental responsibility over their children after the relationship has ended. Applying the equal shared parental responsibility principle, it is presumed to be in the best interest of the child to be able to spend time equally with both of his parents. This way the child will be able to develop a meaningful relationship with both parents. It is only when it would not be practical for the child that the court would order for a parent to spend substantial and significant time to be spent with the child instead of equal time.
A de facto couple would need to consult each other with respect to major long – term issues that would affect the child. Hence, a de facto partner cannot decide solely on important matters such as religion, education, culture and health concerns.
The de facto couple would have to decide jointly on these long – term issues. As for minor issues or daily concerns it may be decided by the parent with whom the child lives with or the parent who has the primary care of the child such that consulting the other parent is no longer needed.
It is prudent to obtain legal advice from a divorce lawyers regarding your property settlement , when contemplating a separation or soon after your de-facto-relationships relationship comes to an end.