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Upon separation, parents need to try to be able to work together to reach agreement as to, amongst other things, where and with whom the children will live and what amount of time they will spend with the other parent.
In considering what amount of time a child is to live with either parent the Family Court is required to consider whether an “equal time” arrangement is in the best interests of the child, whether that arrangement is reasonably practicable and, if it is not, the Court must consider whether the child spending significant and substantial time with one parent is in the child’s best interests and whether that arrangement is reasonably practicable.
Children’s issues will also include making arrangements for the long-term care and welfare of the child and in such considerations there is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for parents to have equal shared parental responsibility.
Parenting Plans and Parenting Orders
Separating couples may consider making a parenting plan when making arrangements for the day-to-day and long term needs of the children.
A parenting plan is an informal agreement which is written and dated and voluntarily signed by both parents. The plan can be an exhaustive list of agreements including but not limited to:
- with whom and where a child will live and what time they will spend with the other parent;
- arrangements for days of special significance (Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, etc.);
- interstate and overseas travel;
- the sharing of costs needed to transport the children between the respective homes; and
- whether a parent can relocate with the children, etc.
Parenting plans are not enforceable in the Family Court but they will be taken into consideration by the Family Court in matters subsequently brought before it. It is also open to the Family Court to make Orders in the terms of the parenting plan as already agreed upon voluntarily, if this is in the interests of the children.
Parenting Orders are Orders made by the Family Court and are enforceable in the Family Court. Orders can be obtained by consent or by application to the Family Court.
Family Dispute Resolution in Perth
Before a party can proceed to the Family Court to seek Parenting Orders, excluding Consent Orders, they are required to undergo Family Dispute Resolution (FDR).
FDR requires parents to attempt to reach agreement out of Court and where necessary to seek the services of a FDR service provider to achieve this.
The FDR service requires parties to attend mediation and to make a genuine attempt to reach agreement. If agreement cannot be reached at this stage the parties will be given a FDR certificate which they require prior to being able to proceed to the Family Court to seek Orders.
There are limited exemptions to undergoing FDR and these include abuse or risk of abuse of a child and cases of urgency or where geographic isolation may make FDR unsuitable.
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