Who has Parental Responsibility for a Child?

Answer: According to the Family Law Act 1975 section 61C each of the parents of a child who has not attained the age of 18 ordinarily has parental responsibility for the child. This is so despite any change in the nature of the relationships of the child’s parents. It is thus not affected, for example, by the parents separating or by either parent marrying or re-marrying.

To clarify this position, the following notations are included in the Act after s 61C:

“Note 1: This section states the legal position that prevails in relation to parental responsibility to the extent to which it is not displaced by a parenting order made by the court. See subsection (3) of this section and subsection 61D(2) for the effect of a parenting order.

Note 2: This section does not establish a presumption to be applied by the court when making a parenting order. See section 61DA for the presumption that the court does apply when making a parenting order.

Note 3: Under section 63C, the parents of a child may make a parenting plan that deals with the allocation of parental responsibility for the child.”

Further, it is explicitly stated in the Act that, unless there have been incidents of child abuse or family violence, the court must proceed on the basis of a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for his or her parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for them (see s 61DA).

Where the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility applies, the court must then consider whether or not it is in the child’s best interests and reasonably practical for the children to spend equal amounts of time with each of their parents (see s 65DAA).

Where the exercise of parental responsibility involves making a decision about a major long-term issue in relation to the child, the order is taken to require the decision to be made jointly by the persons who hold that parental responsibility. This is not the case in relation to matters that are not major long-term issues (defined in s 4).