When a marriage or a de facto relationship breaks down one of the most common concerns for parents is the care of their children when they separate.

Parents want to know who the children are going to live with, how often the children will see the other parent, how they are supposed to work out care arrangements and what to do if they cannot agree on arrangements.

The paramount consideration is what is in the children’s best interests. It is not what the parents want, but what is best for their children.

In deciding future arrangements parents must bear in mind –

  • how important it is for children to have a close and supportive relationship with both parents;
  • that there is a positive obligation on both parents to ensure that this occurs;
  • that the routine and care of children during a marriage should be disrupted as little as possible to ensure that security and stability for them continues even though their parents are separated;
  • that the arrangements – especially for changeover – are manageable for both parents and children;
  • that despite the separation, no matter how painful, parents must continue to communicate – their children will benefit from this.

There are all sorts of arrangements which parents may put in place after they separate. None are “wrong” as long as they work. A typical care arrangement may be that the children live with one parent and spend time with the other parent each alternate weekend from Friday after school until Monday before school and one night in the intervening week from afterschool one afternoon until before school the following morning.

This type of arrangement:

  • ensures stability for the children because they continue to live with the primary parent, most often at least initially in the family home;
  • provides for regular time with the parent the children do not live with;
  • enables the parent who does not have the day to day care of the children to be involved with the children’s teacher/s and to have contact with other parents on those days when he/she attends to collect the children after school and return the children to school;
  • provides both parents with some recreational time on weekends;
  • accommodates work commitments; and
  • most importantly ensures minimal disruption to the children’s weekly routines.

Extra time during school holidays can be arranged as can time on special days such as birthdays and Christmas.

Parents may want to know whether they can share the care of their children equally following separation. This may work, but in order to share the care of children on an equal basis it is important that Mum and Dad are able to communicate well, that they live close to each other, that the children can continue to go to the same school and same extracurricular activities. An arrangement where children are shared for example by spending one week with one parent and the other week with the other parent is in itself is a significant disruption to children’s routine. To ensure that it works well parents must be cooperative and supportive of each other.

In short parents may agree on whatever arrangements that work for them and their children.

If those arrangements break down the next step is for the parents to attend counselling to try to resolve their dispute with the assistance of a qualified person. The first port of call is usually a Family Relationship Centre. There are many of these centres throughout Australia and they can be sourced online to locate the closest to where you live. There are also many qualified counsellors / psychologists who will provide private mediation for parties.

If the parents have made a genuine effort to resolve their dispute with the assistance of a qualified counsellor, but unfortunately are not able to do so, that counsellor will provide a Litigation Certificate to both parents. Only with that Litigation Certificate may one or other of the parents approach a court to make a determination as to parenting arrangements that will be binding on both parents.

It is important for parents to compromise and to be flexible in their approach to resolving parenting arrangements for their children when attending counselling. It should be foremost in both parents’ minds that the children’s interest come first. This is especially important because the outcome of not resolving parenting issues is litigation in the Courts, a process which is particularly stressful for all parties – including the children.

Following the breakdown in your relationship you may wish to obtain advice from one of our Accredited Specialists at Carew Counsel before you embark upon any negotiations with respect to future parenting arrangements for your children. Please telephone us on 9670 5711 to make an appointment.

Susan Scott Mackenzie

Susan Scott Mackenzie

Senior Associate, Accredited Family Law Specialist

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