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Children and family law

When parents of a child under 18 separate, they both have parental responsibility for the child, subject to any court order. Shared parental responsibility differs from equal time.

Both parents also have a duty to support the child financially.

This department administers the Family Law Act 1975, handles international parent–child legal matters, and has policy responsibility for post-separation services.

Best interests of the child

The Family Law Act 1975 focuses on the rights of children and the responsibilities that each parent has towards their children, rather than on parental rights. The Act aims to ensure that children can enjoy a meaningful relationship with each of their parents, and are protected from harm.

Equal shared parental responsibility

Under the Family Law Act 1975 there is a presumption that both parents will have an equal parental responsibility—that is, they will both have a role in making decisions about major long-term issues such as where a child goes to school or major health issues.

The presumption does not apply if the parent engaged in abuse of the child or family violence.

The presumption also does not apply if it is not in the best interests of the child.

Shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal time. Parents will spend equal time with a child only where:

  • they can agree to this arrangement
  • or
  • a court finds that equal time is in the best interests of the child and is the most suitable arrangement.

Family dispute resolution

The Family Law Act 1975 requires separating families who have a dispute about children to make a genuine effort to sort it out through family dispute resolution.

The Act also requires that they take part in family dispute resolution before attending court unless one of the exceptions applies, such as family violence, child abuse or urgency.

Children's contact services

Children's contact services help children of separated parents to have contact with their other parent and family members when there are concerns about safety.

Support for children after separation

Community-based organisations provide Supporting Children after Separation Program (SCaSP) services throughout Australia. SCaSP services assist children from separating families to deal with issues arising from the breakdown in their parents' relationship and to be able to participate in decisions that impact them.

For more information on family dispute resolution, children's contact services and support for children after separation, visit the Family Relationships Advice Line website or call 1800 050 321.

Child support

Australia's child support scheme allows separated parents to make payments for the financial support of their children.

For more information, visit the Department of Human Services website.

Parentage testing laboratories

A list of accredited parentage testing laboratories is available on our accredited testing labs and nominated reporters page.

International family law and children

For information about international law and the child, visit our International family law and children page.​