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The Practicalities of a Meaningful Relationship

Daniel Dalli highlights the different aspects considered when the Family Law Courts assess parenting arrangements in a Family Law dispute

The Family Law Courts (the Courts) has a complex task in assessing the benefit to a child having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents and having regard to all considerations as set out in the Family Law Act. This task is further complicated by the question of how parenting arrangements should be structured on a practical basis in order for a parent to maintain or establish a meaningful relationship with their child.

Quality and Quantity
The essence of this issue has been scrutinized by the Courts particularly with regard to the correlation between the quality and quantity of time between a child and parent. Although each case must be determined on its unique set of circumstances, a link between the two exists and is supported by the Revised Explanatory Memorandum of the 2006 Family Law Amendments:

What is important is that the focus be on ways that both parents are able to develop a meaningful relationship with their children and share important events including everyday time with the child. It recognizes that in order to have a meaningful relationship and to share equal shared parental responsibility that this will generally involve ‘both’ parents spending both substantial and significant time with their children.[1]

The Family Law Act (the Act) requires the Courts to consider a child spending equal or substantial and significant time with each parent in certain circumstances.[2] Although the concept ‘meaningful relationship’ is not defined within the Act, the legislation states what constitutes substantial and significant time for the purpose of the relevant section, being:

  1. The time the child spends with the parent includes both:
    1. Days that fall on weekends and holidays; and
    2. Days that do not fall on weekends or holidays; and
  2. The time the child spends with the parent allows the parent to be involved in:
    1. The child’s daily routine; and
    2. Occasions and events that are of particular significance to the child; and
  3. The time the child spends with the parent allows the child to be involved in occasions and events that are of special significance to the parents.

Whilst is not at the crux of the concept, quantity of time it is a significant factor of a child having a meaningful relationship with a parent. Social studies have indicated that a link exists between contact time and a ‘meaningful relationship.’ The reoccurring theme of the Social Policy Research Centre study was that children valued ‘having enough good time with both parents.’[3] The research suggested that in the eyes of the child, there needed to be sufficient time between child and parents, but also that children were able to recognize effort made by each parent.

Practicalities of Substantial and Significant Time
In considering the practicality of a child spending equal, or substantial and significant time with each of the child’s parents the Courts must have regard to each of the following:

  1. How far apart the parents live from each other; and
  2. The parents’ current and future capacity to implement an arrangement for the child spending equal time, or substantial and significant time, with each of the parents; and
  3. The parents’ current and future capacity to communicate with each other and resolve difficulties that might arise in implementing an arrangement of that kind; and
  4. The impact that an arrangement of that kind would have on the child; and
  5. Any other relevant matter (which may include the age of the child, the views of the child, the extent of the conflict present between the parents and the relationship of each of the parents with the child).[4]

An additional factor to be considered is the gap between visits and the quality of time spent. The case of Loddington and Derringford also suggests that a substantial quantity of time is not essential if the time spent between a child and parent is meaningful and worthwhile. [5]

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] Explanatory Memorandum, Family Law Amended (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006

[2] Family Law Act (1975) Section 65DAA

[3] Social Policy Research Centre, Shared Care Parenting Arrangements since the 2006 Family Law Reforms, May 2010.

[4] Family Law Act (1975) Section 65DAA(5)

[5] Loddington and Derringford (2008) FamCA 925.

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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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