What is parental responsibility?

Equal shared parental responsibility versus sole parental responsibility

In family law, parental responsibility means all the duties, powers, and responsibilities parents have in relation to their children. This blog explores the key differences between ‘equal shared parental responsibility' and ‘sole parental responsibility’.

Special note - changes to the Family Law Act

On 6 May 2023, significant changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) will come into effect. Please note that the information on this webpage may no longer be current.

If you are unsure about what the changes mean for you and your family, contact us for a free initial consultation: 03 8625 8957

Ordinarily, every parent of a child under 18 years of age has automatic parental responsibility for the child. This is the case irrespective of whether the parents are married, in a de-facto relationship, separated, or never in a relationship.

Parental responsibility gives parents the power to make both ‘day to day’ decisions and ‘major long-term’ decisions.

Day to day decisions

Day to day decisions are deemed more minor decisions such as what the child will eat or wear. It is not necessary for parents to consult one another on these types of issues.

Long-term decisions

Long-term decisions, on the other hand, are more major decisions related to the long-term care, development and welfare of the child. These could include issues such as the child’s:

  • name;
  • education (eg, where the child will go to school);
  • religion or culture;
  • health care (eg, authorising medical procedures); and
  • living arrangements.

Equal shared parental responsibility

The court works with the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility between both parents unless it is rebutted (more on this below under sole parental responsibility).

If parents have equal shared parental responsibility, they are legally required to make a genuine effort to consult with each other and come to a joint consensus regarding long-term decisions.

Parental responsibility v parenting arrangements

It is important to remember that equal shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal parenting time or equal time spent with children (previously called child custody).

Consider these two scenarios:

  1. A child lives with one parent during the week and one parent only on weekends. That is, they spend about 70% of their time with one parent and the other 30% of their time with the other parent.
  2. A child lives with each parent 50% of the time.

The time the child spends living with each parent is referred to as parenting arrangements. These arrangements could be achieved by consent between the parents or through parenting orders.

Although there are differences in how much time the child spends with each parent, both parents have exactly the same equal shared parental responsibility under each scenario.

Sole parental responsibility

As mentioned above, the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility may be rebutted; for example, by proving that it is not in the child’s best interests for both parents to have shared parental responsibility. Reasons for this could include (amongst others):

  • a high level of conflict between the parties; or
  • if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent or person living with the child has engaged in family violence or child abuse.

In cases where it is determined that equal shared parental responsibility may not be in the best interests of the child, a court may consider making an order for sole parental responsibility.

If a parent is given sole parental responsibility, this means that they are the only parent who can make decisions pertaining to long-term care, development and welfare of the child. A parent with sole parental responsibility will not have to consult with the other parent or have them agree with major decisions, such as which school the child will attend and other considerations outlined earlier.

Obtaining a sole parental responsibility order

Due to the presumption that it is in the best interests of the child to have equal shared parental responsibility, the courts are generally reluctant to make an order for sole parental responsibility. However, if the circumstances lend themselves to it, the court may decide that giving one parent sole decision-making power is in the best interests of the child.

How a family lawyer can help

If you are concerned that your child’s other parent is making decisions about long-term care without consulting you, or if you believe that you are in a situation that requires you to obtain sole parental responsibility, it is prudent that you seek legal advice. The team at Smith Family Law can assist you with your parenting matters.

Contacting Smith Family Law

📞 03 8625 8957

📧 [email protected]

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This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact Smith Family Law.

Get in touch with the author:
Ben Smith


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