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What is a Meaningful Relationship

Daniel Dalli discusses the term "Meaningful Relationship" in the context of parenting matters before the Family Court

Having regard to the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration of the Family Law Courts in deciding on parenting matters. In making this assessment, the Courts adopt a two tier approach and consider:

  1. The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents[1]; and
  2. The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.[2]

When the term ‘meaningful ‘relationship’ was introduced to the Family Law Act (the Act), it was intended that parents would have the opportunity to have a meaningful involvement in their children’s lives to the maximum extent consistent with the best interests of the child. The issue however is that there is no statutory guidance contained within the Act that defines this term.

The Courts have considered the matter extensively. This issue was Justice Benjamin’s focus in the case of Cave and Cave (2006) FamCA 860. With regard to what factors needed to be addressed in assisting the Courts in determining what constituted a meaningful relationship between parent and child, Justice Benjamin made the following comments:

  • The nature of the relationship of the parent of issue (parent seeking to establish or develop a meaningful relationship) with the child as well as the other parent and any other significant persons (inclusive of grandparents and relatives of the child);
  • The moral and social fibre of the parent of issue that would be present to the child;
  • The individual character of the parent of issue and whether they are able to engage a meaningful relationship with the child for their benefit; and
  • The impact of the present and future absence of the parent of issue, from the life of the child, in the circumstances that court opts not to make an order in their favour (parent of issue).[3]

Justice Benjamin commented that a child’s development and ability to grow in a caring environment is the central focus when determining what constitutes a ‘meaningful relationship.’ His Honour’s comments, in essence, establish a link between a relationship whereby a parent is actively engaged in parenting and a child having a meaningful relationship with a parent.

In the case of Godfrey and Sanders (2007) FamCA 102, Justice Kay was required to consider a relocation application, where there proposed relocation would likely strain the relationship between the children and the non-relocating parent. Justice Kay made the following comments:

Even if the move results in a diminution in the quality of the relationship, what the legislation aspires to promote is a meaningful relationship. [4]

This case further highlighted that a parenting order is not made with regard to the needs of parents; it is solely focused upon the best interests of the child. Prior to this matter, Justice Brown commented in the case of Mazorski and Albright (2007) FacCA 520 that when considering the primary considerations in respect of the best interests of a child, a ‘meaningful relationship’ is one that is important and valuable to the child; the term is a qualitative concept and a quantitative concept is an approach to be taken when determining the presumption of shared parental responsibility. [5]

So, is there any association between the quality of time spent between a parent and their child, and the quantity of time needed to achieve a meaningful relationship? Whilst it is important to bear in mind that the legislation does not suggest that a meaningful relationship can be quantified, a correlation exists between such a relationship and time spent with a child.

What is evident, is that the concept of a ‘meaningful relationship’ is complex and all family law matters involving children must be determined on the facts of each particular case. If you require assistance in this regard, Daniel Dalli can provide you with advice and representation. For more information, or to arrange an obligation free appointment, please feel free to contact Daniel Dalli on 0423 729 686 or email ddalli@rbflinders.com.au.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general overview of the subject matter and is not to be relied upon as giving legal advice. Advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

[1] Family Law Act 1975 Section 60CC(2)(a)

[2] Family Law Act 1975 Section 60CC(2)(b)

[3] Cave and Cave (2007) FamCA 860, [10].

[4] Godfrey and Sanders (2007) FamCA 102, [36].

[5] Mazorski v Albright (2007) FamCA 520, [26].

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About the author

Daniel Dalli
Associate

As an advocate of collaborative law, Daniel provides his clients with an approach to family law disputes that aim to resolve such issues by way of a non-litigious form of dispute resolution. In contrast, Daniel has acted in several trials before the Family Courts of Australia regarding complex parenting and property matters and has the confidence of his clients to achieve the best outcome.

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