Laws governing children

Image: Photo of work by artist David Higgins

Unlike any other area of the law, children’s matters are fraught with emotion. Decision-making is difficult for parents in these circumstances. This is why you will benefit from expert legal advice about your situation. Maddens Lawyers Family Law practitioners have extensive experience in this area.


Both parents have full responsibility for children under 18 years of age. If the parents can’t agree on matters such as where the children will live or who they will spend time with then the court will step in to make orders that dictate both parents’ responsibilities.

Parenting orders

The orders made by the court are called parenting orders. There are four types of parenting orders including:

  • ‘Living with’ orders – previously known as ‘custody’ or ‘residence’ orders, stating who the children will live with
  • ‘Spending time with’ orders – ‘access’ or ‘contact’ orders, setting out periods of time spent by the child or children with the non-resident parent (the parent they don’t live with most of the time)
  • ‘Child maintenance’ orders – dealing with financial support for the child
  • ‘Specific issues’ orders – covering any other aspect of parenting responsibilities

Often such orders are made on a short-term basis to accommodate for inevitable changes in circumstances such as the children getting older or moving out of home. Parents are able to apply to the Courts to alter or amend the Orders. The court can also appoint an independent lawyer to represent your children in the process, and it can order a child psychologist to prepare a ‘family report’, looking at how relationships within the family work, in order to make recommendations about future care arrangements.

Best interest of the child or children

It is important to remember the courts’ and legal practitioner’s main focus will always be in the best interests of the child or children. The result the parents would prefer is never considered to be more important than the children’s needs. Once you start court proceedings, you are in what is referred to as an ‘adversarial environment.’ This means one person is against the other, and both parties are asking a third party to decide what is in the best interest of their children. This is why our clients are almost always better off if they can negotiate a parenting plan, rather than going to court. The court will, generally, always encourage both parties to do this.

Going to trial can be expensive and stressful. However, that said, sometimes it is the only option.