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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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Family Court Finds A Way to Get out of Binding Child Support Agreement during Covid-19

In the recent case of Martyn & Martyn [2020] FamCA 526 the Family Court considered a matter where the parents had entered into a binding child support agreement in 2012 which the father’s child support lawyers sought to set aside due to Covid-19.

The 2012 Agreement involved the father paying the mother a sum of $1,350 per month with a 2% increase each year.

The father currently owns and operates a business which supplies products to international businesses. Due to cross-border restrictions and social distancing measures, the father’s company was significantly impacted and he claimed that the business activity dropped by 90%. The father’s child support lawyers argued that as a result, his financial circumstances had been significantly worsened due to the limitations on international commerce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Family Law, a Child Support Agreement may be set aside if exceptional circumstances have arisen that would cause hardship to the payer.

Ultimately, in this case, the Family Court was satisfied that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was an exceptional circumstance and that the father would suffer hardship. The Binding Child Support Agreement of 2012 was set aside and the father was not required to pay the child support amount in the Agreement.
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When will the Court appoint a lawyer (an ICL) to represent the interests of your children?

In complex parenting matters the before the Court the divorce lawyer may ask the Court to appoint an ICL. The Court itself may decide to appoint an ICL- that is a lawyer for your child or children.

A family Law case decided by the Court in 1994 is often relied upon by both the Court and the divorce lawyer to assist in determining when an ICL should be appointed.

This 1994 case known as Re K was a decision of the Full Court of the Family Court.

Re K suggested that where one or more of the following factors apply to the case, the Court should consider the appointment of an ICL:

  1. Where there are allegations of child abuse, whether physical, sexual or psychological.
  2. Cases where there is an apparently intractable conflict between the parents.
  3. Where the child is apparently alienated from one or both parents.
  4. Where there are real issues of cultural or religious difference affecting the child.
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What are the other options to address delays in the Family and Federal Circuit Court?

The Family Law Act provides that a property dispute of the parties can be referred to Arbitration for determination on a final basis.

A divorce lawyer will advise that arbitration is the process whereby the parties agree that a Family Court or Federal Circuit Judge will not hear the financial dispute but that it will be determined by an appointed and qualified Arbitrator.

A divorce lawyer can give suggestions as to an arbitrator who would be specially qualified and accredited. Arbitrators are usually lawyers or Barristers who have had significant experience in the Family Law field.

The divorce lawyer will advise that there are limitations upon Arbitration which are as follows

  • Each party must consent to the referral of the case to the Arbitrator rather than the case being determined by a Judge
  • Each party must be prepared to meet the costs of the Arbitrator, usually in equal shares
  • Issues of parenting cannot be referred to Arbitration
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Introduction by the Court of the Discrete Property List

A further option introduced by the Federal Circuit Court to alleviate Court delays is the discrete property list.  A divorce lawyer can advise you about this option.

Cases in the discrete property list are managed by a Registrar rather than the case having multiple preliminary listings before the Judge. A divorce lawyer appears before the Registrar to seek Orders to ensure that the issues in dispute can be quickly defined and disputes about the provision of disclosure documents and valuations can be quickly solved.

To ensure that property cases do not fall into a hole and become “stalled” if any dispute arises in defining the property pool or in either party obtaining financial records that may be required; the case can be quickly relisted by a divorce lawyer before the Registrar in order to resolve the dispute or order the provision of the document if applicable.

Sometimes it is necessary for the divorce lawyer to seek the Registrar’s leave to issue a subpoena.
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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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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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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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