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Family forum: Child custody

Where to start when it comes to child custody

QUESTION:

My husband wants custody of his child from a previous relationship but doesn’t know where to begin. He pays child support but is never allowed by the ex-girlfriend to have his son over. This does have a toll on our marriage because he is always stressed when thinking about the whole situation and would like to find a solution. Can you help?

ANSWER:

The Family Law Act provides that children have the right to know and be cared for by both their parents. The Family Court prefers that separating couples make their own agreements for shared care and shared responsibility for any children they may have. The court supplies mediation services to assist in resolving any disagreements. This is usually the first step in the process.

You can also seek advice from a Family Relationship Centre near you. These centres specialise in providing joint family dispute resolution mediation sessions with the other parent or family members to help you agree on parenting arrangements. Mediation is a low-cost option to achieve agreements regarding caring for children for separated or divorced couples.

If all parties, including the court, agree that the arrangements are in the best interests of the child given the circumstances, then the court can make an order to this effect. Failure to comply with a Family Court order can have legal consequences.

If your husband does not have such an order, the panel recommends that he seek legal advice about the way to obtain one from a solicitor who specialises in family law. Many solicitors do not charge for an initial consultation.

The panel suggests that an order to allow your husband to spend time with the child may be an important precursor to any attempt to gain shared residency.

The court will not usually change residency arrangements if this is not considered in the child’s best interests. A younger child who has been estranged from a parent for some time may find the prospect of a disputed change of residency distressing and is likely to need some time to re-engage with the non-residential parent.

Finally, the panel is aware that eventually a child will become of an age to make their own decisions about where and with whom to live. A parent who has denied their child an opportunity to engage with their other parent may find that this eventually rebounds on them as the child matures and resents the lost contact with him or her.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

Have you got a question you’d like us to tackle?

Fill out the form below or send questions to Family Forum, The Advertiser, 31 Waymouth St, Adelaide 5000.

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