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’.
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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 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, 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:
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.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.