If you are involved in, or you know someone involved in, a parenting dispute before the family law courts you might have heard the statement ‘the child’s best interests are of paramount consideration’.
The statement refers to a concept in the Family Law Act which requires decision makers to consider what is in the child’s best interests as priority in parenting disputes. But what does it mean?
The legislation lists 16 factors which are considered when deciding what is in the child’s best interests
- The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents.
- The need to protect the child from harm.
- Views expressed by the child.
- The nature of the relationship between the child and the parents.
- The effect on the child of a change in circumstances.
- The practicality of the child spending time with the parents.
- The extent the parents have taken (or have not taken) to spend time and communicate with the child.
- The specific circumstances and characteristics of the child.
To gather the information that it needs, the Court may take certain steps
These steps may include:
- ordering that the parties participate in a court ordered Family Report where the parties will usually be interviewed and observed by a psychologist
- ordering that one or both parents undertake drug and/or alcohol testing, if it is concerned that there is a substance abuse issue which puts the child at risk of harm.
When making Orders, the Court may:
- limit a parent’s time with the child or order that their time be supervised
- structure the Orders in a manner which means that there is limited contact between the parents if there is a risk of exposing the child to conflict/family violence between the parents at changeover.
The Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended changes to the way the Court decides parenting disputes. One of those recommendations is to simplify the factors to be considered when deciding what is in the child’s best interests. You can read a short two-page summary of the proposed changes to decisions regarding parenting arrangements on its website here.