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What about children of separated parents?

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By Belinda Spong, Senior Associate, MST Lawyers

Of primary concern to separating parents is the question of “what happens to the children?”

Many parents of children under the age of 18 are anxious to know where they are likely to stand and what arrangements could be made for their children upon separation.  Most parents want to make sure they come to arrangements which is workable for their family but in the interests of their children.

Do we have to go to the Family Court?

Usually, the answer is a resolute no.  Most caregivers are able to come to agreement about arrangements relating to their children, either by informal discussions, negotiations through lawyers or with help from a family dispute resolution practitioner during the family dispute resolution process.

What is family dispute resolution?

Family dispute resolution is a type a mediation run by a family dispute resolution practitioner.

Family dispute resolution practitioners are mediators who are experienced in helping parents create child focused solutions in relation to their children’s issues.

Parents may engage a private family dispute resolution practitioner or attend upon a local relationship Centre to see a private family dispute resolution practitioner.  Family dispute resolution centers can be located at the following  http://www.relationships.org.au/ or http://www.mediation.com.au/.

In most cases, it is mandatory for parents to attempt to resolve their child related issues through family dispute resolution before parties can bring a dispute before the Family Court.

Family dispute resolution may not be appropriate in particular cases involving family violence, matters of urgency or unresolvable disputes.

What should I think about before trying to come to an agreement about arrangements for my children?

Parents should consider what the Family Court considers, that is, what is in the best interests of their children.

It is usually appropriate that parents continue to equally share parental responsibility – the ability to make decisions about important long term matters such as schooling, religion and medical treatment of their children.

In most cases, the court will be of the view it is in the interests of the children to know and spend time with both parents. 

In practice, each family needs to think about their own circumstances including the age of each child, the maturity of each child, the commitments of the children and what routines were in place before separation.  Parents will also need to consider practical matters such as their own working arrangements, the geographical location of their homes and the children’s schools.

Parents might wish to consider what weekly routine will work for their family and also about sharing special days such as birthdays, religious holidays and school holidays.

How do I document an agreement about our family arrangements?

Parents can document their agreement about their children either in a parenting plan (which although not binding holds a lot of weight if there is ever a dispute about the arrangements) or in Minutes of proposed consent orders, which are sent to the Family Court and usually stamped administratively without the need to appear before the court.

Should I consult a lawyer about children’s arrangements?

Yes.  Parents should consider consulting a lawyer to discuss the process of negotiating arrangements in relation to children. Parents are welcome to contact our experienced Family Law team on +61 3 8540 0200 or email the author of this article, Belinda Spong.