Parental Responsibility

Whether a family is together or separating, it is the parents’ responsibility to make arrangements that are in the best interests of the child.

Each parent has parental responsibility for their children until aged 18 years. Parental responsibility is not affected by changes in the parents' relationship; for example, if you separate or remarry.

Parental responsibility means all of the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that parents have in relation to their child.

If it is safe to do so, and subject to any court orders, the parents of a child who is not yet 18 are encouraged:

  1. to consult each other about major long term issues in relation to the child; and
  2. in doing so, to have regard to the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.

Major long‑term issues, in relation to a child, means issues about the care, welfare and development of the child of a long‑term nature and includes (but is not limited to) issues of that nature about:

  1. the child’s education (both current and future); and
  2. the child’s religious and cultural upbringing; and
  3. the child’s health; and
  4. the child’s name; and
  5. changes to the child’s living arrangements that make it significantly more difficult for the child to spend time with a parent.

Day-to-day decisions, such as what the children eat or wear, are not major long-term issues.

Types of parental responsibility

If there are no court orders about parental responsibility, each parent has parental responsibility for the child. This means that the parents can make decisions about the child independently from each other.

If parents would like to create a legal obligation to make joint decisions about major long-term issues, they should seek an order for joint decision-making in relation to all or specified major long term issues.

If a parenting order provides for joint decision making in relation to all or specified major long term issues, then the parents are required to consult each other in relation to each such decision, and to make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision. Consultation is not required about decisions that are not major long term issues, being such things as what a child eats or wears when spending time with each parent.

If parents don’t want to create that obligation, they could seek:

If parents want to specifically deal with an issue by order, such as what name the child is to have, the order can be written so it deals with that issue.

Changes to parental responsibility

Each parent has parental responsibility whether or not they are married to each other, living together or separated – or even if a parent has gone to prison, travelled overseas, or become mentally ill.

In fact no change in circumstances has the effect of taking parental responsibility away from the parents, or giving it to anyone else. Even if a parent has had no involvement with the upbringing of a child, that parent still has parental responsibility.

Each parent has parental responsibility for their child unless a court makes a parenting order or other decision transferring parental responsibility, or some part of it, to another person.

Parental responsibility may be changed in some situations. For example, one parent may have died or have abandoned the child, or have become too ill to play any part in the child’s upbringing. Arrangements may have been made for the child to be cared for by grandparents or foster parents or other relatives.

The law deals with this problem by allowing courts to make orders transferring the legal responsibilities of parenthood (parental responsibility) to somebody else, or changing them in various ways. An order changing parental responsibility is a parenting order and the court will make whatever order appears to be in the child's best interests when making an order for parental responsibility.

More information

You may find the following resources useful:

Last updated: 16-Apr-2024

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