Parental Responsibility after Separation

When a separation involves children, the situation can become far more challenging, complex and emotionally disruptive than if it just involves dividing assets.

A good starting point is to understand that parents play an equal role in making important long-term decisions about major issues affecting their children.  This shared parental responsibility continues regardless if the status of the couple’s relationship changes as a result of a separation, divorce or remarriage.

Parental responsibility is about the legal duty, responsibility, power and authority that parents have with respect to their children.  It covers key aspects of the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, care, welfare and development and it generally relates to decisions that will affect the child over the longer-term.    

These major decisions include the child’s current and future education, their health and any ongoing medical requirements, their cultural and religious upbringing, living arrangements, the child’s name and their security and safety.  For example, if a parent wanted to move their child to another school, they would have to consult the other parent before any decision could be made.

Unless the Court determines otherwise, parents continue to share this responsibility until the child reaches the age of 18 and there is no distinction between biological and adoptive parents.

Often when parents split up, one of the very first questions they ask is: ‘what happens to the children?’ 

As discussed, equal shared responsibility continues regardless of any change in the status of the parents’ relationship.   Both parents are required to consult one another about any issue affecting the care and welfare of their children  and this has to be done on an ongoing basis. 

In most instances, parents are able to work out their parenting arrangements without intervention from the court.  They are able to communicate and consult with one another about co-parenting their children and they find ways of reaching agreement on the big decisions.   

However, not all parents are able to do this.  Some feel their expectations are not being met.  Some feel they are not getting what they’re entitled to.  Others don’t agree with their former partner on key parenting issues.  Reaching an agreement with the other parent who may have a different parenting style or very different views, can sometimes be very difficult indeed. However, before parents can apply to the Court for assistance, they will be required to attend mediation, which is an alternative dispute resolution process. 

We know from experience that alternative dispute resolution processes are effective in enabling parents with conflicting views to work out a mutually agreeable solution.  In most cases, these processes yield an outcome that both parents are happy with and which can be formalised in a written agreement, being either a Parenting Plan (evidence of intent) or consent Orders (which are enforceable).

However, if the individuals are unable to resolve the matter despite having made a genuine effort through mediation, they can apply to the court to decide. 

Separating from a partner when children are involved is never easy, but it is an advantage to have the support of a skilled and empathetic family lawyer on your side.  If you would like to learn more about parental responsibility after separation, West Family Lawyers has a comprehensive FAQ page on our website, or we invite you to get in touch with our friendly, caring and professional team of family lawyers in Perth.   

Please note that this article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.

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