Child and parenting cases
Separated couples who share children together must decide about the appropriate care arrangements for them after separation.
Those arrangements were previously described as child custody, visitation, residency, and contact. In 2006, those terms were changed to encourage separated couples to make child focussed decisions about their children instead of negotiating as if their children were items of property.
The newly used terminology is Equal Shared Parental Responsibility, Sole Parental Responsibility, lives with, spends time with, equal shared care or week-about, substantial or significant time, communication, and information sharing.
Ultimately, the appropriate care arrangements are decided upon what is in “the best interests of the child”. This is decided on a case-by-case basis because every child is unique. They each have different needs and circumstances such as risk of harm, age, health, education, cultural background, the distance between their mother’s home and father’s home, the level of conflict between their parents, and the ability or inability of their parents to communicate civilly with each other.
The first step is to try and negotiate directly with your former partner. It may help to engage a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner to help you negotiate with your former partner. I have a list of recommended FDRPs on my Handy Links page. If an agreement is reached, you can draft and sign a Parenting Plan which is flexible but unenforceable. You can formalise an agreement or Parenting Plan into an enforceable Court Order by filing a Form 11 Application for Consent Orders. If an agreement is not reached, the FDRP may issue a s.60I Certificate which will allow you to commence proceedings at the Family Court of WA within the following 12 months.
Parenting cases which are often litigated include situations where children need protection from abuse or family violence, a parent is about to permanently leave Australia with a child, or a parent wishes to relocate with a child to live elsewhere either intra-State within Western Australia, Inter-State within Australia, or Internationally. If you and your former partner cannot reach an agreement between yourselves about the care arrangements of your children, a Magistrate of Judge at the Family Court of WA will decide for you both after a final hearing. You will have an opportunity to present your case. Your former partner will also have an opportunity to present their case. But ultimately neither of you will have any control over the outcome. Although you can reach an agreement between yourselves any time up until reasons for decision are delivered and final parenting orders are made. However, the Judge or Magistrate will still need to determine that the parenting order sought are being made in the best interests of the child.
It possible but difficult to change final parenting orders unless there is agreement or there is a significant change of circumstances which was not contemplated at the time the final orders were made.
We can help you to determine the appropriate post-separation care arrangements for your children. We can help you to negotiate with your former partner. We can help you to document an agreement into an informal Parenting Plan or formalise it into an enforceable Court Order. If all negotiated pathways to agreement are either unavailable or unsuccessful, we can give you advice and representation in the Family Court of Western Australia.