Shared custody. Only a few families manage it.

by Kate Marr on March 11, 2011

Kate Marr, Family Lawyer

Figures  published in an article titled “Shared Custody Remains a Problem” on the SBS website on 1 February 2011 state that only 16% of children have a shared time arrangement, most commonly a 35/65 split in favour of the mother.

On 1 July 2006, the family law system significantly changed.  Amendments included compulsory attendance at family dispute resolution (prior to commencing litigation) and an emphasis on promoting both parents having a meaningful relationship with their children.  (Note: The best interests of the child remain the court’s paramount consideration in making parenting orders).

To some parents, to have a meaningful relationship with their children, they expect to have equal time.  However, is equal time always in the best interest of the children?

Especially for children of a young age, some studies have concluded that it is in a young child’s best interest to have stability, whereby they are not separated from their primary carer for a substantial period of time.

Equal time can also pose practical problems especially if the parents remain in a high conflict relationship and can not communicate effectively.  Another practical problem arises if both parents do not live in close proximity to each other, meaning the children  may need to travel a greater time to attend school and may go without a valued possession if they forgot to pack it before changeover.

In my view, equal time arrangements are only in the best interest of the children in a limited number of cases.  The chances of an equal time arrangement working effectively is likely to be further reduced after the parents have been involved in drawn out proceedings. However, for some parents, once proceedings have been finalised, the relationship between them improves and an equal time arrangement works well.

So long as the children are protected from violence, abuse or neglect, the relationship between the children and the non primary carer may be best promoted by orders for “substantial and significant time”.  Orders for time between children and the parent during weekends, holidays, special occasions and time during the week (allowing that parent to be involved in day to day activities) is likely to promote the best interests of the children.

Whilst equal time arrangements are not yet “the norm”, with some parents being dissatisfied of outcomes of their parenting proceedings, the statistics may illustrate that these arrangements would not be in the best interest of children in a large number of cases.

We can help you look at the options and practicality of a shared care arrangement for your children. Call me for a preliminary chat.

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