Separation can be tough, and divorce can often be even harder to deal with. But when a relationship breaks down and children are involved, things become even more complicated. That’s because their future living arrangements must be sorted out. But how? A parenting agreement is a good place to start when deciding child custody in Australia.


What is a parenting agreement?

A parenting agreement or plan is a written arrangement that focuses on the care of all children after a separation which is then signed by each parent. There’s no required format for a parenting agreement, but community-based family support services often provide assistance with writing parenting plans, including examples that may give parents some ideas. 

It’s important to understand that parenting agreements are only to be used as a guide as they aren’t a legally enforceable document, unlike a parenting order. Parents must apply to the courts to change their written parenting agreement into a legally binding parenting consent order.

How does this affect any children from the relationship?

In most cases, a parenting agreement will ensure each parent has shared responsibility for the lives of their children. In other words, before any major decisions are made on behalf of their kids, both parents agree to discuss them first and come to an agreement. These decisions can include things like the school they will attend, overseas travel, and anything relating to their religion, health, and culture. 

These parenting arrangements for shared responsibility works pretty well for the vast majority of separating families, even when going through an otherwise difficult divorce. That’s because most parents will communicate with each other, make decisions together, and do everything they can in the best interests of their children.

What age can a child decide which parent they live with?

Despite what many people believe, there is no specific legal age that children can decide which parent they want to live with. That being said, Australian family law ensures children of all ages are allowed to express their views in any proceedings that concern them. While they cannot be the ultimate decision maker for where they will live, children can still have their say which may have an influence on the court’s decision. 

There are a range of different complexities and other factors the court will assess when deciding children’s living arrangements. For example, the higher the maturity and level of understanding regarding the child’s situation, the higher value their views have in the court. They also need to know their decision regarding which parent they’d prefer to live with is well informed, based on facts, and hasn’t been influenced by either parent or other family members.

How does the Court play a role in this decision and what factors affect this decision?

The main concerns of the Family Court during separation is that children maintain a healthy and positive relationship with each parent, while ensuring they are free from both physical and psychological harm. That’s why a trained counsellor, therapist, or consultant will usually interview the child regarding their wishes before providing a report to be analysed by the Family Court. This report will be used by the Court to assist them in finalising their decision regarding which parent the child should live with. 

If you’re having difficulties deciding which parent your child is going to live with after a separation, you should reach out to an experienced and understanding family lawyer to ensure the decision will provide the best outcome for your child and your family.