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Child Custody Laws and Independent Children’s Lawyers

An independent children’s lawyer, also known as an ICL, is a Court-appointed lawyer who acts independently to represent the child’s interests in family law proceedings regarding child custody laws. The child, an organization concerned with the welfare of the child or any other person may apply for an ICL to be appointed. The Court may then make an order to appoint an ICL who will attempt to find out what the views of the child are.

The Full Court in Re K [1994] FamCA 21 provided some guidance on what the court might consider when appointing an ICL in matters involving child custody laws, including:

  • Alleged child abuse
  • Unsuitability of either parent
  • Parental conflict
  • Proposal to relocate the child far away
  • Alienation from a parent
  • A parent’s sexual preferences
  • Special medical procedure for the child

Role of the ICL

The role of the ICL is not to take instructions from the child, but rather, to represent the child’s best interests. The ICL should form an independent view of what is in the child’s best interests according to the evidence, act in the child’s best interests and make submissions to the Court regarding the child’s best interests. The child’s best interests must be distinguished, however, from the child’s wishes. An ICL is not obliged to follow the child’s wishes and may disclose information about the child against their wishes if necessary.

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What Do Child Custody Laws Say If Your Child Doesn’t Want To See the Other Parent?

Relationship breakdown can often be a difficult and turbulent time for your children. To navigate this time, some families seek parenting orders from the Court to determine where the children should live and when they can see the other parent. But what do child custody laws say if your child does not want to see the other parent? According to child custody laws, certain obligations exist for the resident parent to comply with the Court orders, some of which are considered below.

Positive Obligation to Encourage Access

In the matter of Stevenson and Hughes (1993) 112 FLR 415, the mother pinned the father’s telephone number near the telephone and informed the child they could call the father whenever they liked. On a separate occasion, the mother took the child to the husband’s residence in accordance with the orders but the child refused to go inside. The father made an application for contravention, claiming that the mother contravened the Court orders by failing to give the father access to the child. The Court found that “an access order imposes an obligation which goes beyond mere passive non-interference and it imposes upon the party who is obliged to give access a positive obligation to encourage that access.” The Court found that the wife had not done all that was reasonable in the circumstances to encourage the child to come to the telephone and speak to the father but had, in effect, issued an invitation in a manner in which the child was given the option to refuse.

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Judicial Mediation: A New Option To Resolve Your Dispute

As of 1 January 2019, parties to a family law dispute and their marriage lawyer, in appropriate cases, may now have the option of Judicial Mediation in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Judicial Mediation is not intended to replace or substitute private mediation. Rather, the court expects that parties to a family law dispute exhaust all mediation alternatives, such as private mediation with a private mediator, prior to Judicial Mediation.

The Judicial Mediator

The Judicial Mediator may not be the Judge that would ordinarily determine the family law dispute. This Judge is referred to as the Docket Judge. Where both Judges consent, the Docket Judge may refer the proceeding for Judicial Mediation to another Judge.

How to Initiate Judicial Mediation

Judicial Mediation can be initiated in two ways. Firstly, you or your marriage lawyer can make an oral application in court. Alternatively, you or your marriage lawyer may apply for judicial mediation in writing to the Docket Judge. The written application must include a brief summary in bullet point format addressing why the matter is suitable for Judicial Mediation.

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Child Custody Laws and Child Custody Rights – Where do I start?

Separation is often a stressful time for both parties. Alongside dealing with your own emotions during a particularly difficult time, parties with children have to make arrangements for the care of the child or children, as the case may be. Child custody, as it often referred to, concerns the resolution of parenting arrangements for children. This involves reaching agreement about with which parent the children will live with and the time that they will spend with the other parent during the school terms. It often extends to agreements about school holidays and special occasions throughout the year such as Christmas, Easter and Birthdays.

Considerations to keep in mind when negotiating an agreement about child custody:

  1. Separation is stressful on children too and each child may react in different ways to separation or divorce. The child’s age, maturity, personality and characteristics are some factors that will no doubt determine their reaction.
  2. It is important to remember that cooperation of the parties, particularly in the presence and hearing of the children, can be beneficial to the child’s reaction.
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Child Custody & Child Custody Laws

Child Custody Laws and Child Custody Rights are terms often used when parents seek advice in relation to parenting disputes. When parties make competing parenting applications, the Court is required to consider what is in the best interests of the child.

Children’s Rights

Child Custody Rights relate to the rights of the subject child, not the parents.

The rights of a child can be summarised into two primary considerations:

  1. The child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents; and
  2. The child’s right to be protected from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.

If the primary considerations conflict then the need to protect the child prevails.

The best interests’ principle is the overarching and paramount consideration in all parenting matters. Primary considerations, together with an extensive and broad list of additional considerations are matters that the Court will take into account when determining what is in the child’s best interest. An experienced family lawyer can advise you on which considerations are relevant to your circumstance.

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Why you should speak to family law lawyers about travelling overseas with children after separation

Before you put down the non-refundable deposit on your dream overseas holiday, it is best to check with family law lawyers whether you may need your former partner’s consent to take your children. While it is common for Orders to include mention about who holds the passports, how they are to be renewed and what is permissible overseas travels, they are not compulsory. This may mean you will need to seek the consent of your former partner to take your child overseas. You may also need to seek their consent in applying for or renewing your child’s passport.

Renewing or applying for a passport

If your Orders are silent on getting your children a passport or ensuring they remain valid, you will need to obtain the consent of your former partner in getting a passport. This will require you to complete a passport application or renewal application which shows the consent (generally the signature) of both parents. If your former partner refuses to sign the application, you may still able to apply for a passport.

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Child Custody Laws – Parenting Arrangements

Following the breakup of a relationship where children are involved, the children’s short and long term arrangements need to be organised between the parties. This is often difficult given the high emotional nature of separation. If this does become complicated it is suggested that you seek legal advice on child custody laws and assistance to find a solution that caters to the whole family and most importantly the best interests of the child or children involved.

Parenting arrangements, traditionally referent to as ‘custody’ look at things such as:

  • Who the child should live with
  • What parent is responsible for each aspect of the child’s upbringing
  • At what times will the child spend time with the other parent
  • What situations will require the parents to discuss matters relating to the child
  • How parenting arrangements can be altered

It is our hope to assist you in reaching these agreements with the other parent without the requirement of going to court.  Alternatively, we can also assist you in making informal agreements decided by you and the other parent legally binding. However, if both parties are unable to reach a single arrangement, than the court can make and enforce orders for you.

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Child Custody Laws: Parenting Plans and Parenting Orders

When making parenting orders under the Family Law Act 1975, child custody laws stipulate that the court is required to maintain the best interests of the child/children involved as the paramount concern.  It is advised that when divorce or a de facto relationship breakup occurs, that parents follow specific principles when making parenting plans.

Under the Family Law Act 1975 child custody laws highlight that:

  • both parents are responsible for the care and welfare of their children until the children reach 18, and
  • there is a presumption that arrangements which involve shared responsibilities and cooperation between the parents are in the best interests of the child.

Child Custody Laws: How does the court determine the best interests of the child?

When deciding on the best interests of a child, the court examines two tiers of consideration – primary and additional.

Primary considerations consist of:

  • The benefit to children of having a meaningful relationship with both parents.
  • The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
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