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Children and family law

The Family Law Act 1975  focuses on the rights of children and the responsibilities that each parent has towards their children.

When parents of a child under 18 separate, they both have parental responsibility for the child (subject to any court order).

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

We administer the Family Law Act 1975, handle international parent–child legal matters and have policy responsibility for post-separation services.

Best interests of the child

The Family Law Act 1975 focuses on the needs of children and the responsibilities that each parent has for their children, rather than on parental rights. 

The Family Law Act aims to ensure that parenting arrangements are made in the best interests of children. 

Making parenting arrangements often includes making decisions about:

  • who will be responsible for major long-term decisions about the child
  • how much time a child will spend with each parent.

Decision-making on major long-term issues

Major long-term issues are issues about the care, welfare and development of the child that are of a long-term nature. They can include issues about the child’s education, religious and cultural upbringing, health, name and significant changes to the child’s living arrangements. 

Where it is safe to do so, the Family Law Act encourages parents who do not have parenting orders to:

  • consult each other about major long-term decisions 
  • make decisions that are in the best interests of their child.

If you would like certainty about how these decisions will be made, you can apply to a family court for a parenting order. A court can make orders for parents to:

  • have joint decision-making about some or all major long-term issues
  • have sole decision-making about some or all major long-term issues.

The law does not contain any presumptions about which arrangements are likely to be best. A court is required to make the orders that will be best for the child, in their specific circumstances. 

Time arrangements 

Although some people believe that the law entitles parents to spend equal time with their children, this has never been the case under Australian law. Parents should consider what arrangements are best for their individual child, in their particular circumstances.

Parents will spend equal time with a child where either:

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

Changes to the Family Law Act from May 2024

The Family Law Amendment Act 2023 was passed by the Australian Parliament on 19 October 2023.

Most of the changes commenced on 6 May 2024.

These changes will affect you if:

  • a court is considering your parenting arrangements
  • you are trying to determine the right parenting arrangement for your child.

There are new laws for making parenting arrangements, including:

  • a simpler list of best interests factors for courts to consider when deciding parenting arrangements
  • the ‘presumption' of equal shared parental responsibility no longer exists. 

If you would like to understand more about the new laws on parenting arrangements, please refer to the Family Law Amendment Act 2023: Factsheet for parents and parties.

There are a number of other important changes in the Family Law Amendment Act 2023. These include:

  • requirements for Independent Children’s Lawyers to meet directly with children
  • simpler compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders
  • new powers for the courts to prevent harmful litigation
  • new powers to enable government to regulate family report writers.

For a detailed explanation of all of the changes in the Family Law Amendment Act 2023, see Family Law Amendment Act 2023: Factsheet for family law professionals

Family dispute resolution

The Family Law Act 1975 requires separating and separated 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 separating and 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 and separated families to deal with issues arising from the breakdown in their parents' relationship and to be able to participate in decisions that impact them.

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