The recent amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) represent a significant shift away from the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility that was introduced in 2006. These changes, which came into effect on May 6, 2024, aim to prioritise the best interests of the child in parenting matters.

One of the key changes is the removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility (Section 61DA), which previously assumed that it was in the child’s best interests for both parents to have an equal role in making major long-term decisions about the child’s upbringing. This presumption has been criticized for creating an expectation of equal time-sharing arrangements, even in cases where such arrangements may not be suitable or practical.

Instead of this presumption, the amended Act encourages parents to consult each other about major long-term issues concerning the child, while having regard to the child’s best interests as the paramount consideration (Section 61CA). However, this consultation is only encouraged if it is safe to do so and if there are no court orders stating otherwise.

The amendments also remove the requirement for courts to consider making orders for equal time or substantial and significant time with each parent if an order for equal shared parental responsibility is made (Section 65DAA). This change aims to shift the focus away from presumptive time-sharing arrangements and towards a more individualized assessment of the child’s best interests.

Additionally, the amendments introduce a new list of factors that the court must consider when determining the child’s best interests (Section 60CC(2)). These factors include the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents, the need to protect the child from harm, and the child’s views and maturity level, among others.

Overall, these amendments represent a move towards a more child-centric approach to parenting matters, where the unique circumstances of each family and the specific needs of the child are given greater consideration, rather than relying on presumptions or prescribed time-sharing arrangements.

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