Children and Parenting Orders
Family law deals with child custody through the Family Court, the Federal Circuit Court, and occasionally the Local Court. These courts deal with parental responsibility, child custody, and where the children live. The Child Support Agency is responsible for assessing their ongoing financial support needs. Courts and the Child Support Agency are primarily interested in the welfare of the children; whether the parents are married, same-sex, or de-facto is immaterial. We have expertise in all these areas. Please read on.
Your Children Are Precious.
If you’re reading this you will already know your children are the most precious thing in your life. Their needs must come above yours and those of your husband, wife or partner. Children must always be your primary consideration during your separation and later on when you divorce. They must not become the rope in a tug-of-war; they must not be the meat in a sandwich.
A primary consideration is whether there is a risk of violence or abuse. If you believe this is an issue you should seek advice – speak to a lawyer, the police, or Legal Aid immediately. If your children are at risk we can advise about the options to protect them including types of orders which may be relevant, and use of services such as Supervised Contact Centres. In most cases however, this will not be an issue and you should try to mutually agree how you are going to tell the children their parents aren’t going to live together any more. No matter what the difference between you, there has to be agreement the children will not become pawns. If you play those games, child psychologists will find out, and so will the Court.
Children will react in different ways depending on their age and their natural temperament but if they see cooperation and harmony between their parents it will always be easier for them.
Small children often won’t be able to understand what’s going on and will simply reflect the emotion they see around them. If there is a lot of shouting and emotion, they will react badly to that. If you are calm, even if you are upset inside, it will be easier for them. Sometimes younger children may behave in a regressive way, and appear clingy with one parent. This doesn’t mean they don’t love the other parent, or shouldn’t be around them. If you are the preferred carer at this time, it doesn’t mean that in the long term the other parent won’t be more involved in the child’s life. Consider how you will normalise the relationship between the child and the other parent as it in almost all cases that parent will continue to play a major part in the child’s life. Keeping things as normal as possible during separation is going to make it easier for the child (which is the pimary goal) to go to the other parent’s home later on. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the child.
If you are the remote parent in this situation, don’t worry. If your matter does go to court or become adversarial, a child psychologist, or court-appointed counsellor or family consultant will be able to make recommendations and give feedback about how things can be brought back to normal, even if it takes a bit of time. If things are difficult with the children around the time of separation, it does not necessarily mean that’s how it will be in the long term.
Older children know what’s going on and can react in very different ways. Some may want to go with a parent who is leaving; others may become withdrawn, angry and even violent. Some children become very alienated from one parent because they may take another parent’s side, particularly if new partners are on the scene. Their studies can suffer, they may think about running away, they may act delinquently, or in unusual and unpredictable ways – they may not appear to be the child you love and know. Your most important job is to help them through this and not to become so focused on your own problems that you forget them and theirs.
If your matter goes to court, depending on the ages of the children, they may have an opportunity to give their views to a number of experts such as children’s lawyers, a court-appointed psychologist, or a legal family report writer. Children will sometimes tell these third parties something completely different to what they will tell their mum or dad – sometimes they really need to talk to an independent third party. The views of your children can be taken into account when working out what arrangements suit them. Sometimes these arrangements may not be what either parent wanted and may not sound ‘fair’. But at the end of the day, remember, this is about what’s best for the kids.
Almost always, if it is possible, children are better off remaining in the family home. This is a familiar and safe place to them, at least to start with whilst they adjust to the new situation. Allowing them to spend extra time with their close friends can be helpful, and you should consider seeking out friends to assist who have a stable family life – especially if the family is a settled, blended family, so they can see that what is happening to them is not going to be the end of the world. If your children feel supported, and if you help them to maintain relationships with friends, grandparents and other relatives, they can quickly adapt.
Your separation may not be a surprise to you (if you are the person wanting to leave) so spend some time planning how you are going to help the kids through this time in advance, because it nearly always comes as a shock to them and they need time to get used to the idea. We can advise about a number of local Government and non-Government service providers who offer a range of services which can help at this time, including courses and workshops for separated parents, courses for teenagers, and other counselling services.
We can help with a range of parenting outcomes, whether it’s simply advising about a child’s rights are under the Family Law Act to have a relationship with both parents and significant others, or whether you would like help in drafting a Parenting Plan, a set of Consent Orders, or if your matter is at the stage where court is the final option.
What do children need?
Children need the continuing care and support of both parents. They will worry less if you can agree about what is going to happen and explain why to them. You both should:
- reassure your children that you both still love them
- remember that accepting and dealing with the separation will enable you to better assist your children to do the same
- allow your children the right to love both of you – never try to make them choose
- tell your children that they are not to blame and help them to discuss their feelings – they often blame themselves, especially when parents fight about them or things they have done
- listen sympathetically to your children’s feelings and opinions without judgment
- talk with the other parent about issues relating to your children
- make sure your children don’t hear or see you fighting
- keep your children out of your arguments with the other parent
- keep your children out of negative sounding discussions about the other parent
- be positive about the other parent when talking to your children
- turn to other adults for emotional support rather than to your children
- talk with uncles and aunts, grandparents, other relations and family friends about not talking negatively to your children about the other parent or the situation
- talk with your children’s teachers so they understand what’s going on
Keep your focus on your children’s well-being rather than on what is ‘fair’ for you.
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