One of the most challenging times during a family break-up is always the decision about where a child or children from the relationship will live and how much time they will spend with each parent under the new arrangements.
In deciding this difficult but crucial question, the court is guided by the ‘best interests of the child as set out in the Family Law Act 1975. One of the primary considerations for determining a child’s best interests is ‘the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents.
How the court deals with the consideration has been explored in numerous Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) cases, including one case in which Felicio Law Firm acted in: Jasper & Lilley in 2018.
A look at the facts, in this case, is illustrative of some of the difficult issues to resolve when trying to work out arrangements for the raising of a child from a broken relationship.
The details of the case
Felicio Law Firm acted for the father in this case, which involved a mother who suffered from mental illness and seeking additional time with her seven-year-old daughter to stay overnight with her in the face of objections from the father, who the child lived with.
The mother and father had separated while the child was still an infant and the girl at first lived with the mother. But after a year, the mother was admitted to a mental health facility and the father sought an order that the child lives with him, which she had done ever since.
The mother would spend some time with her daughter under the supervision of her parents. She was admitted to a hospital on a number of separate days during this period until, in early 2018, the mother applied for overnight time with her daughter. The orders sought included the mother having the child with her each Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm for a period of six weeks and thereafter, every second weekend from 5 pm on Friday until 5 pm on Sunday. The mother also sought extended periods of time during school holiday periods.
The father sought for this application to be dismissed. While there was no dispute that it was important for the child to maintain a strong relationship with her mother, the father was concerned about how the child could be kept safe in the event of the mother experiencing another mental health episode.
How the case was resolved
The decision in the Family Law Court agreed with the father that the time sought by the mother was too extensive, but disagreed with him that the child spending four hours supervised per fortnight with the mother was sufficient time.
‘I am confident that the supervision by the mother’s parents, or other adults acceptable to the father, is sufficient to ensure the child’s safety and welfare during the periods which she spends with her mother,’ the judge stated.
The order was that the child spends time with her mother each Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm for a period of six weeks and, commencing on the seventh week, each alternate weekend from 9 am on Saturday until 5 pm on Sunday.
The importance of specialist legal advice
Under section 65AA of the Family Law Act, the best interests of the child are paramount when the court makes a parenting order. Under the Act’s presumption of equal shared responsibility, the court must consider whether those interests are best met by the child spending equal time, or ‘substantial and significant time with each parent.
A parent’s mental health, as well as other factors such as family violence, become relevant factors in the court’s consideration of whether it is reasonably practicable for a child to spend periods of time with a parent, including overnight stays as in Jasper and Lilley.
If anything in this article raises issues of concern, contact Central Coast family lawyers today for a compassionate hearing of your issue. We have many years of experience in difficult and complex family law matters.