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The Presumption of Equal Shared Parental Responsibility – What this means and how it affects your child – Child Custody Lawyer advice

The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility is a consideration of the Court when determining child custody applications. The “best interests of the child” is an enshrined consideration under Australian law and is the foremost consideration in child custody cases. As such, the Act set out under section 61DA (1) that it is ‘in the best interests of the child for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child.’ It is important to note however that this presumption looks to shared responsibility, not shared time. Furthermore, it requires both parents to make joint decisions about the long-term considerations for the child. Therefore parents are required to make a genuine effort to consult with the other parent and come to a general consensus about such decisions. This is all in the best interests of the child.

The Court’s presumption applies to interim and final orders.  There are circumstances where this presumption does not apply (s61DA (3)). Such circumstances are specific and the presumption will not apply if the Court finds there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent (or person living with the parent) has engaged in either abuse of the child or another child who was a member of the parent’s family at the time or in family violence in general (s61DA(3)).
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Court introduces new initiatives to help alleviate the significant delays in the Court

A divorce lawyer will advise you that the Court delays in hearing and finalising your property application under the Family Law Act have in some registries became even longer. It is for this reason that the divorce lawyer tries to encourage their client to consider mediation either privately or through the Court.

The Court itself is also considering options to help reduce the back log of cases.  A divorce lawyer will provide information about the PPP Program currently being tried out in some registries including at the Parramatta Federal Circuit Court.

The aim of the program is to:-

  • Identify cases that fall within the guidelines of the program
  • List those cases separately in lists where the progress can be clearly tracked
  • Lessen the amount of required documentation to be filed at Court
  • Provide those parties with the opportunity to participate in a Conciliation Conference before a Registrar (where each party and their divorce lawyer attend).
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Changing Existing Parenting Orders

Once final parenting orders are made in family law proceedings, they can only be changed with the assistance of your child custody lawyer in specific circumstances, including:

  1. where the parties agree to a change, or
  2. where a party can show that there has been a significant change of circumstances that makes a change necessary.

The Court will generally not “reopen” parenting proceedings that have been finalised to change parenting orders, unless there is a good reason for doing so and it is in the child or children’s best interest.   Continuing litigation about parenting matters is generally not considered to be in the best interest of the children, or the parties.

A recent decision of the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia determined that there was a change in circumstances that warranted a change to existing final parenting orders.

In Shan & Prasad (2020) FLC 93-980, final orders provided for the father to spend no time with his children.  The father applied to vary the orders.  The trial Judge found that there was no sufficient change in circumstances (in accordance with the rule Rice v Asplund (1979) FLC 90-725).
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Question of Paternity – How Child Support Lawyers Can Help

When making an application for child support with the Department of Human Services (DHS), your Child Support Lawyers need to satisfy the Registrar that the person being assessed to pay the costs of the child is a parent of the child. This is often called “proof of parentage”. While parents may be biological parents, the term parent also includes adoptive parents, where the child has been born as a result of artificial conception procedures, or if the child was born as a result of a surrogacy.

The Registrar can presume paternity in the following situations:

  • The child was born during the course of a marriage
  • The person is recorded on the child’s birth certificate
  • The person has signed a statutory declaration
  • The person has adopted the child
  • The person cohabitated with the child’s mother at any time during the period 44 weeks and 20 weeks before the child’s birth
  • Where a Court order has determined parentage
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What Happens if I Breach My Parenting Orders?

Once the Family Court has made parenting Orders either at hearing or by consent, each party must comply with those orders. If one party has departed from those Orders there may be serious consequences for such breach. You should seek legal advice from a divorce lawyer if you or your ex-partner believe there has been a breach of the orders.

If you are unable to resolve the breach, one option forward is a Contravention Application. Your divorce lawyer may file a contravention application in the Family or Federal Circuit Court when one party alleges the other has breached their parenting orders. Contravention proceedings are generally confined to very clear cases. Your divorce lawyer will need to set out that the other party:

  1. Intentionally failed to comply with the order, or
  2. Made no reasonable attempt to comply with the order, and
  3. Had no “reasonable excuse for contravening” the order.

The primary purpose of these proceedings is to ensure compliance with the orders. However, there are some circumstances where the Court may use the proceedings to penalise a party to deter them from further breach.
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What is the Role of the Mediator in Family Law Mediation?

Parties often attend family law mediation as an opportunity to try and resolve their family law dispute whether it be custody matters, property distribution or child support matters. However often parties can be confused as to the role of the Mediator in family law mediation and their part in assisting the parties in reaching a resolution.

The greatest misconception by parties is that the Mediator will provide the parties with legal advice. They will not. The Mediator must remain neutral and therefore will not advise either party as to the legal merits of their case. The Mediator’s prime role is to facilitate the family law mediation process in a way that enables both parties to effectively identify the issues in dispute and assist with generating options that might resolve these issues.

It can be hard for parties to talk to each other about things that concern them even when lawyers are involved. Family Law Mediation is designed to be a safe space where each party has an opportunity to raise things they may not have been able to before. In the process of finding common ground that may not be apparent from the outset, the Mediator assists the parties in crafting a unique solution that is best for the family’s circumstances.
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Interim Hearings – What are They and Will I Need a Family Law Lawyers Assistance?

An interim hearing can be described as Court event that gives the parties a temporary or short-term outcome until all the evidence can be considered, tested and evaluated at final hearing with the help of your family law lawyers. The Court typically takes a conservative approach at the interim hearing, generally taking a path that is least likely to cause harm to the child. Any order made on an interim basis with the assistance of your family law lawyers may be changed once the matter has been heard on a final basis.

The decision of Saif & Saif highlights the interplay between the considerations in interim hearing, including:

  1. The best interests of the child;
  2. Issues of risk;
  3. Importance of continuing a child’s relationship with each parent.

The question before the Court was whether the mother could relocate with the children from Sydney, where the father resided, to Melbourne. The Court highlighted the inherent tension between enabling parent’s freedom of movement after separation and on the other hand, to avoid obstructing a child’s relationship with the other parent.
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DISPUTE RESOLUTION – Our Family Law Lawyer looks at the new digital service “amica”

Dispute resolution is often used by couples who are separating or divorcing.  A benefit of dispute resolution is that an agreement can be reached, without the added cost and complexity of litigation or other formal legal processes.  Dispute resolution processes also allow the parties to have greater control and management of the process and outcome.

A family law lawyer can provide advice in relation to the best resolution option for a dispute.  A family law lawyer can help to understand a person’s rights and responsibilities and the law that may apply to that case.  This includes helping a couple going through separation to reach an agreement without the need to go to Court.

One of the dispute resolution options that is available to the parties is online dispute resolution (ODR).  ODR utilises technology to assist with the resolution of disputes.

On Tuesday 30 June 2020, the Honourable Christian Porter MP, Attorney General of Australia, announced a new digital service “amica” that is designed to assist separating couples to resolve their family law disputes online.  The media release notes “amica uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to suggest the split of assets, taking into account:  the couple’s particular circumstances; the kinds of agreements reached by couples in similar situations; and how Courts generally handle disputes of the same nature.”
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