Formalising parenting arrangements may seem like an onerous and possibly unnecessary step, however leaving casual arrangements in place can have many negative impacts. One of those is that it gives the Courts the ability to take a more active role in deciding such parenting arrangement, as seen in a recent High Court case.
The case Blaze & Anor & Grady & Anor  FamCA 1064 was heard last November. The biological mother had fallen pregnant in 2012, but decided that with three other children she was unable to financially support the child. She made this decision believing that the biological father would not provide financial assistance.
The mother made an informal adoptive agreement with a couple known as Ms Blaze and Ms Darnley, in which she agreed that she would relinquish custody of her daughter after birth. The couple lived with the mother until the child’s birth in June 2013, providing financial assistance and helping care for the mother’s other three children.
The biological mother and the couple signed an informal Parenting Plan at the time, but did not consult the biological father, nor was he aware of the arrangement.
However after the child’s birth, DNA testing indicated that the man believed to be the biological father was not in fact the parent. Discovering the real paternity of the child led to a High Court case to determine custody between the real biological and adoptive parents.
Despite the child living with the couple since birth in 2013, the Judge ordered that the biological parents would instead have shared parental responsibility and that the child be subject to a transition period as the couple relinquish their care of the child to live with her biological mother. Further orders were made to allow the child to spend time with the couple every fourth weekend as well as time for the child to spend with the biological father. The biological parents were also given leave to change the child’s surname to their own names, when previously she had shared the couple’s last names.
In delivering his verdict the Judge noted his concerns regarding the couple’s willingness and capacity to promote the child’s relationship with her biological parents – a relationship the law considers valuable to a child’s wellbeing. The Judge was also concerned that the biological father had not been consulted in relation to the agreement between the couple and the biological mother, essentially not giving him the chance to have a relationship with his daughter.
This is an important reminder that the Family and Federal Circuit Courts can negate informal agreements. Understanding family law and what the Courts will consider in relation to the best interests of the child is a complex area, and one that Alliance Family Law can assist you in understanding. If you are considering establishing or altering parenting arrangements you should seek legal advice to formalise the agreement. If you have any questions about this please contact one of our experienced lawyers here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 as soon as possible for advice.