Over the past ten years, the concept of ‘sole custody’ or there being one primary carer for a child has been diluted. This occurred following amendments to the Family Law Act that introduced a presumption that both parents will share parental responsibility for their children and that equal time should be considered. While there is no presumption that equal time with both parents is in the best interests of a child, the Court is obliged to consider whether shared care is appropriate.
This legislative change has assisted fathers (and non-primary carers generally; but let’s face it, female biology plays a big part in attachment in the early years) to seek greater amounts of time with their children in appropriate cases.
The primary consideration when looking at what is in your children’s best interests is their right to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, provided it is safe for them to have that relationship. The Court remains focused on the rights of your children – rather than on a mother or father’s rights.
Where the focus of a father in contested parenting proceedings was previously to discredit the other, there now needs to be a demonstrated ability to co-parent, minimise inter-parental conflict and communicate effectively. In most cases where one party is seeking shared care, the Court will consider the capacity of the parents to implement the shared care arrangement. By way of substantive example, this means you have to be able to work out homework, remember the soccer equipment, make sure you have a present for the birthday party on Saturday afternoon, send polite text messages when one of you is 15 minutes late and ideally attend things like parent teacher interviews together.
Here are some tips for fathers seeking more time with their children:
- Ensure that you know (and are focused on) what is best for your children.
- Work on your relationship and managing conflict with your former spouse.
- Be as involved in your children’s lives as possible; whether you focus on increasing the quality of your time with them or look at opportunities to expand the quantity of your time with them. This might include watching their sporting games on weekends and/or attending their school assemblies.
- Recognise and acknowledge the positive skills set that your former partner brings to parenting and differentiate yourself. What parenting skills do you have to offer your children that your former partner cannot?
- It doesn’t hurt to do a parenting course. Whether you think you need to do one or not, there are some great courses out there that can not only assist with parenting but also demonstrate a willingness to learn and ‘step up’.
- Get some legal advice. You don’t know what you don’t know – and there are likely to be some strategies or negotiation techniques that we can provide you with.
If you are seeking to increase the time you spend with your children, whether directly with your former partner or through an alternative process, contact us to help you to plan for the best outcome.
If you have any other tips that you would like to share with fathers, please leave a comment on this post.
Courtney Mullen is a senior solicitor in our Canberra Office.