Most people will understand the terms “child custody” and “contact”, yet in the family law, these are outdated terms. The terminology changed as a result of changes to the legislative framework brought about by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 that came into operation on 1 July 2006. The old terminology of “child custody” became “live with’, while “access” or “contact” became “spend time and communicate with”. The old terminology of the Court “granting custody” is now known as the Court “making parenting orders”. The 2006 Act did not just change the terminology of family law in Australia, in fact it dramatically changed Australia’s child custody laws. It placed an increased focus on the rights of children to have a meaningful relationship with both their parents and to be protected from harm. The law also encourages parents to equally share responsibility for their children after separation. Most critically, the law sets forth a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for each of the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility.
The Family Law Act
Let’s now look in more detail at the parenting provisions of the Family Law Act 1975 (“FLA”) as they stand following the 2006 amendments.
Parenting orders are a set of orders made by a court regarding parenting arrangements for a child, either by consent or after a court hearing or trial. Parenting orders are defined in s 64B of the FLA and deal with where a child is to live, the time that a child spends with another person and the circumstances as to how that time is spent, parental responsibility, and ‘any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child’.
Applications for parenting orders can be brought by either or both of the child’s parents, the child, a grandparent of the child or any other person concerned with the care, welfare or development of the child: s 65C of the FLA.
When a court is making a parenting order, the FLA requires it to regard the best interests of the child as the ‘paramount’ consideration. Incidentally, parents are also encouraged to use this principle when making parenting plans.
Leading Case Law
The best guidance as to how all this applies in practice can be found in the leading decision of Goode & Goode  FamCA 1346, in which the full court of the Family Court of Australia summarized some of the critical changes in the law:
 Thus, in deciding to make a particular parenting order, including an order for parental responsibility, the individual child’s best interests remain the paramount consideration and the framework in which best interests are to be determined are the factors in s 60CC(1), (2), (3), (4) and (4A). The objects and principles contained in s 60B provide the context in which the factors in s 60CC are to be examined, weighed and applied in the individual case.
 In an interim case that would involve the following:
(a) identifying the competing proposals of the parties;
(b) identifying the issues in dispute in the interim hearing;
(c) identifying any agreed or uncontested relevant facts;
(d) considering the matters in s 60CC that are relevant and, if possible, making findings about them (in interim proceedings there may be little uncontested evidence to enable more than a limited consideration of these matters to take place);
(e) deciding whether the presumption in s 61DA that equal shared parental responsibility is in the best interests of the child applies or does not apply because there are reasonable grounds to believe there has been abuse of the child or family violence or, in an interim matter, the court does not consider it appropriate to apply the presumption;
(f) if the presumption does apply, deciding whether it is rebutted because application of it would not be in the child’s best interests;
(g) if the presumption applies and is not rebutted, considering making an order that the child spend equal time with the parents unless it is contrary to the child’s best interests as a result of consideration of one or more of the matters in s 60CC, or impracticable;
(h) if equal time is found not to be in the child’s best interests, considering making an order that the child spend substantial and significant time as defined in s 65DAA(3) with the parents, unless contrary to the child’s best interests as a result of consideration of one or more of the matters in s 60CC, or impracticable;
(i) if neither equal time nor substantial and significant time is considered to be in the best interests of the child, then making such orders in the discretion of the court that are in the best interests of the child, as a result of consideration of one or more of the matters in s 60CC;
(j) if the presumption is not applied or is rebutted, then making such order as is in the best interests of the child, as a result of consideration of one or more of the matters in s 60CC; and
(k) even then the court may need to consider equal time or substantial and significant time, especially if one of the parties has sought it or, even if neither has sought it, if the court considers after affording procedural fairness to the parties it to be in the best interests of the child.