Shared Parenting : When The Family Court Decides The Care Of A Child
When the Family Court decides what Orders it should make in relation to the care of a child, it must first look at whether the parents are to share responsibility for the long-term decisions of that child. If it finds that the parents are to share responsibility for the child, the Court must then consider the possibility of a shared care arrangement.
In doing so the Court looks at whether or not a shared care arrangement, which usually involves the child spending time with the parents on a week-about basis, is “reasonably practicable”. It takes into account factors such as how far apart the parents live from each other and whether the parents are able to communicate with each other.
If the Court finds that a shared care arrangement is not workable, it must then consider an arrangement where the child spends “substantial and significant” time with each parent, which includes weekdays as well as weekends, school and holiday time. The law is attempting to avoid a situation where one parent (usually the father) is a “weekend parent”, as was often the case in the past.
Realistically, an arrangement where the child spends equal time with each parent only works when the parents can communicate with each other, can work through their issues together and are supportive of the child’s relationship with the other parent. The risk exists that a child will lead a “double life” in a shared care arrangement, which is obviously not a healthy situation for any child. This risk must be kept to an absolute minimum, if not completely removed, and for this to happen a good working relationship between the parents is needed. If the Court becomes involved in a dispute about a child’s contact arrangements, the chances of shared care happening successfully are already lessened.
Many Judges and Magistrates will be wary about ordering that a child spend equal time with each parent, especially when it is obvious that the parents do not get along.
Furthermore, a Court will not order a week-about arrangement if the parties live a distance apart from each other. This is not necessarily restricted to situations where parties live in different towns; a Court may decide a shared care arrangement is not workable where two parties live at the opposite ends of the same city. This is to prevent, for example, children travelling long distances on a regular basis for handovers or even to attend school every day.
Ultimately, what the Family Court is concerned with is what is in the best interests of the child and if it determines that a shared care arrangement would not be in the best interests of the child, it will not order such an arrangement.