A: The Law does not recognise “parents’ rights”. Post-separation parenting arrangements depend on a number of things including:
- The distance between the two parents’ households.
- The level of cooperation and/or communication between the parents.
- Whether there are any serious issues including drug or alcohol abuse, family violence and/or mental health problems.
Parenting arrangements, regardless of how they are made by consent or Court Order must focus on the children’s rights to:
- Maintaining a meaningful relationship with both parents.
- Being protected from abuse or family violence which includes physical, mental or psychological abuse.
Where there are no issues of family violence or abuse there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. This means that both parents are equally responsible for making the significant decision about their children including:
- What religious or cultural identity they are raised in.
- Providing consent for major medical procedures.
Of course, the parent who has the children in their care at any given time has the day-to-day responsibility for the children and is able to make decisions about the children without the other parent’s consent in respect of anything which is not long-term in nature.
Where equal parental responsibility exists, a consideration of equal time is required but may not be practical because of:
- A parent’s work arrangements.
- Distance between the two households.
- Poor parental communication or parental conflict.
- The children’s age or stage of development.
If equal time arrangement are not appropriate then there is a consideration of significant and substantial time. This means having regular time including some holiday time, special occasions such as Christmas as well as some time during the school week. Most parenting arrangements tend to be significant and substantial time.
If however, significant and substantial time is not appropriate then other arrangements will need to be considered and often this is because of the distance between the households or some unusual circumstances such as work commitments or children’s particular special needs.
Where the presumption of equal parental responsibility does not exist because for example there are issues such as:
- Drugs and/or alcohol abuse.
- Extremely poor parental communication.
The Court may Order sole parental responsibility to one parent. This can be in respect of all parenting issues or in respect of a specific issue such as education, for example. Where a parent has sole parental responsibility there is not a requirement for a consideration of equal time or any particular other time arrangements. The arrangements made (presumably by the Court) will be unique to the circumstances of the case and could include:
These tend to be the most extreme of cases and are generally the exception not the rule.