Sole parental responsibility means that the parent who has it does not have to consult with the other parent before making major decisions concerning the child.
In some situations, however, the parent with the sole parental responsibility will still need to consult the other parent for permission.
An example of such case is gender change therapy – this is a decision both parents need to agree on before gender reassignment surgery can commence.
The Court will usually grant both parents equal and shared parental responsibility – that is, unless one parent can successfully argue it should not be presumed.
The parent who wants sole parental responsibility must show the Court evidence that it would not be in the best interests of the child if the parents are given equal shared parental responsibility.
This includes proving reasonable grounds to believe that one parent, or a person living with that parent, has engaged in family violence or subjected the child to abuse. In this case, the court may consider making an order for Sole Parental Responsibility.
Parental Responsibility – What Does It Entail?
Parental responsibility means the different duties and responsibilities parents legally have for the care, development and welfare of their children.
According to the Family Law Act 1975, parental responsibility is defined as:
“All the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to children.”
When parents separate or divorce, it does not result in an automatic change of parental responsibility. Each parent remains responsible for their child until the child reaches the age of 18, unless the court orders against it.
There are six main points considered as “major long-term issues” by the court about which parents with parental responsibility are required to make decisions.
- The future and current education of the child
- The health of the child, especially in regards to medical procedures
- The religious and cultural upbringing of the child
- Changing the child’s name
- Authorising a travel document for the child
- Changing the child’s living arrangements in a way that makes it significantly harder for them to spend time with the parent
Making decisions about the life and future and child is seen as one of the most important parts of parental responsibility.
Equal Shared Parental Responsibility vs Sole Parental Responsibility
The initial presumption of the court is that equal shared parental responsibility is in the best interest of the child. This means that both parents have an equal say on the major long-term issues affecting their child. It also means that when making these kinds of decisions, the parents must make a genuine effort to consult each other to reach a consensus.
In cases where it is determined it is not in the best interests of the child to have an equal shared parental responsibility, the court may grant sole parental responsibility to one parent.
Sole parental responsibility means that the parent who has it does not need to consult with the other parent to reach an agreement about the child’s life, and can make all the decision themselves.
Sole parental responsibility is granted either for a specific issue or set of issues, or entirely for all major long-term issues and other decisions.
An idea that confuses some is the following: parental responsibility is the same as custody or visitation and communication rights between a parent and child. This is not true. Having equal shared responsibility does not mean that the parents automatically have equal custody, and vice versa. If one parent has the sole parental responsibility, it does not mean that the other parent does not spend any time with the child.
It is not common practice to grant sole parental responsibility, and the court is usually reluctant in doing so, as it considers it is in the best interests of a child to have a relationship with both parents.
However, in cases of violence, abuse or serious conflicts between the parents, the court may grant sole parental responsibility.
The main considerations of the court are:
- The benefit of the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents
- The need to protect the child from physical and psychological harm, and from being subjected or exposed to neglect, abuse and family violence.
The second consideration of protecting the child from harm is deemed more important and carries greater weight. Therefore, if one parent is causing the child harm, the court will determine that it is of no benefit of the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with that parent.
If a relationship with one of the parents is harmful to the child (in cases involving physical, emotional or sexual domestic abuse), the court will consider sole parental responsibility as a solution.
Parental responsibility is subject to parenting orders.
Parenting orders deal with different issues, including who the child will live with, how the child with communicate with a parent, and any other aspect of the child’s care, welfare and development.
Parenting orders can be made in two ways. When the parents agree on the parenting arrangements for their child, a parenting order is a consent order that formalises their agreement. Otherwise, parenting orders will be made after a court hearing or trial.
If a parent wants to attain sole parental responsibility, they must prove that continuing a relationship with the other parent is of no benefit to the child. Parenting order applications can be made seeking sole responsibility for one issue affecting the child, such as their education, or for all aspects of the life and development of the child.
A parenting order can be made when the parents agree on the parenting arrangements for their child, and in this case it is a consent order that formalises the agreement.
Otherwise, parenting orders are made after a court hearing or trial.
For a person to attain sole parental responsibility, they must prove that continuing a relationship with the other parent is not beneficial to the child.
Parenting order applications can be made seeking sole responsibility for one issue affecting the child, such as their health, or for all aspects of the child’s life and development.