In deciding whether to make a particular parenting order, the Court is to regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.
The Family Law Act 1975 outlines the primary and additional considerations that the Court is to take into account in determining what is in the best interests of the child.
The Court must apply a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. The presumption may be rebutted if the Court is satisfied that an order for equal shared parental responsibility would not be in the child’s best interests.
For example, the presumption does not apply where there are reasonable grounds to believe a parent (or a person who lives with the parent) has engaged in abuse of the child or family violence has occurred.
Family Violence is defined under the Act as “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family, or causes the family member to be fearful.”
Accordingly, violence of one parent towards the other parent will be considered as Family Violence.
In making parenting order the court will give weight to considerations such as the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subject to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
What happens in the interim before the final parenting orders are made?
In the interim, orders can be sought that a parent’s time with the child be supervised. Supervised time are usually ordered on a temporary basis.
Who can be a supervisor?
A nominated family and friend that is trusted by both parents could be nominated as a supervisor.
Whilst it is a cost effective exercise to ask a family member or a friend to provide supervision, the problem with this kind of supervision is that there could be little or no chance of seeking a written report of the supervised visits to assist the parties and the court with the parenting proceedings. Alternatively there could be allegations of bias by the supervising family member or friend.
An alternative to a family or friend supervisor is Contact Centres or private supervision centres.
Contact Centres are generally government funded organisations that will provide the services in their nominated venues for a very low fee. Upon request and for a reasonable fee, the Contact Centres are able to provide a comprehensive report of each contact between the child and the parent.
The capacity of the Contact Centres is limited and generally orders for supervision by Contact Centres work on a temporary basis.
Alternatively, private supervisor centres are very good options in terms of the variety of activities the parent and child can engage in. The private supervised centres can also prepare reports to be submitted to the court upon request.
However the costs of the private supervisor centres can be quite expensive and may discourage parents in the long run.
Supervised time is not a solution. It is a temporary fix to ascertain that the children are safe whilst maintaining a level of healthy relationship with the parent.