Parental Responsibility

When a child is born or adopted, the parent(s) of that child are vested with the responsibility to make long-term decisions about the care and welfare of a child. This is referred to in Family Law as Parental Responsibility.

The kinds of things that parental responsibility extends to include:

  • Where the child lives;

  • Where the child goes to school;

  • Important medical decisions;

  • Which religion the child will follow, if any; and

  • Any other major long-term decision about that child’s life.

If a child has two parents, the legal presumption is that both parents equally share that responsibility. Major decisions about a child’s life must be made jointly and with regard for both parents’ wishes.

Parental responsibility can only be removed from a parent by Court Order, which can happen in the Family Court or through the intervention of the Department of Child Protective Services. It is important to note that when the parents of a child are no longer in a relationship, parental responsibility is not affected. Both parents continue to share equally parental responsibility, even if the child or children live with one parent more of the time.

In practise, this means that both parents will still need to be equally involved in the decision making process concerning a child’s long-term care and welfare.

  • As mentioned above, parental responsibility can be removed from a parent and be given solely to the other parent (or, in some circumstances, to a grandparent, step-parent or other interested person, such as a relative). Circumstances under which parental responsibility may be removed include: Where family violence makes it impossible for the parents to co-parent;

  • Where the level of conflict between the parents is such that they cannot effectively co-parent;

  • Where one parent has serious mental health concerns or drug & alcohol abuse concerns and is not capable of safely parenting the child; and

  • Less commonly, circumstances where one of the parties moves interstate or internationally and it is impractical for the parties to share parental responsibility.

It should be noted that removing parental responsibility is a serious thing and is only done in serious circumstances. In reality, most parents are able to competently share parental responsibility after a relationship breakdown.

If you wish to learn more about your parental responsibility, you ought to consider seeking legal advice.


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