• Temara Willis

Shared parental responsibility. What does this mean?

Shared parental responsibly means that both parents have equal rights over the rights and decisions of their children. Under the Family Law Act 1975, there is a presumption that both parents will have an equal parental responsibility. They will both have a role in making decisions about major long-term issues such as where a child goes to school or significant health issues.

If you agree to equal shared parental responsibility, then the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) requires that the parents must consult with each other and make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision about the issue.

But how to put this in practice? Simply both parents have a responsibility to communicate with each other regarding the major decisions about the child. This is how you ensure equal parental responsibility. When conflict is high, this can be not easy. What you need to have in the forefront of your mind is that children who have a healthy relationship with both parents who aren't in conflict better navigate the struggles and pitfalls of a divorce or separation that they didn't ask for.

Both parents have the responsibility to communicate any major decision regarding the child's life. Communication and reduced conflict is the key.

The best advice I received and now share with my clients during family mediation is not to micromanage the other parent. You might not like that the other parent feeds the children chicken nuggets for dinner or how the children are dressed, but this is the stuff that you need to let go for your sanity and theirs. Put the kids' needs first. If they are happy, it shouldn't matter what snacks etc, the other parent feeds the children. As long as the children are safe and take care of, it would help if you did not sweat the small stuff. A client once said, "we couldn't agree on these things when we were together… why would we agree when we are separate." That is true. So, to reduce the conflict, remember that when the other parent is parenting, they are responsible for the decision and vice versa. Not you.

So how does equal shared parental reasonability work in practice?

  • Never make a medical decision about the child without consulting with the other parent. This may include vaccinations, surgery, orthodontics etc. if you can't reach an agreement, you may want to engage a mediator. The last thing a child who is unwell needs to be exposed to is their parent's disagreement about their care.

  • Reach an agreement regarding education together. Public or private school, childcare etc. What extra activities can the children engage in after school, who will be responsible for the child attending and the fees associate with the activities? These decisions need to be made together.

  • Ensure that you have sorted out the financial commitments required for raising the children, such as child support, medical expenses, school, clothing, weekend activities.

  • Have arrangements in place for holidays and special events, such as the birthdays of any children involved. Children with a structure and schedule will adapt better than children not knowing the arrangement for special occasions.

  • Have a plan or guidelines on how you will together be making future decisions. What will this look like, and what might be a future decision, it could be a trip overseas or agreeing to school camps, passport applications etc.

Separation is hard and even harder on the children who need to navigate their lives between two homes. As parents, we need to ensure their needs are paramount. Removing conflict and good communication is key! Family mediation can assist you develop the plan that you need to navigate shared parental responsibly. Adelaide Family Mediation is here to help you move forward.

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