Shared parenting or equal shared parental responsibility is a new concept introduced in the realms of family law. The 2006 Family Law Amendments have made significant changes on what is presumed to be in the best interests of the child. Thus, when making a parenting order the courts will first consider the presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for both his parents to exercise equal shared parental responsibility.
Under shared parenting, parents share the responsibility for the child and they must collaborate with each other in achieving the best interest of the child. An order for equal shared parental responsibility imposes obligations upon both parents to consult each other with respect to major long-term issues affecting the child. These issues are in relation to the care, welfare and development of the child such as but not limited to: education, religious and cultural upbringing, health decisions, name of the child, living arrangements. A parent who fails to consult with the other on any of these issues may be held liable for violating a court order. However, parents are not required to consult each other as to the daily or normal aspects of caring for the child.
When the court makes an order for equal shared parenting it will consider whether it would be in the best interest of the child for him to spend “equal time” or “substantial and significant time” with his parents. This will depend on the circumstances surrounding the case. Equal time is reasonable when the parents live near each other; maintain good relations with each other; and the child is attached to both parents. However, if the parents live far from each other it would not be practicable for the child to travel constantly between both parents. So, in the latter case it would be better if the court order is for a parent to spend substantial and significant time. After all, the essence of shared parenting is not measured by the time spent with a child but the responsibility of a parent towards his child.
The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility is rebuttable if it is not in the best interests of the child or if there are allegations of child abuse or family violence.