For separated fathers, obtaining the rights to see their child can seem like an intimidating process. And it’s easy to understand why – there’s a general belief that, when it comes to child custody law, courts will always favour the mother over the father. But this is untrue; in the eyes of the law, both parents are actually on equal footing – and, ultimately, it’s the child’s wellbeing that’s prioritised over all else.
Two parents, no prejudices
So, what are a father’s rights to see his child in Australia?
While the traditional mother-first notion may be grounded in history, times have changed significantly. The Family Law Amendment in 2006 moved the system away from a full-custody model, where one parent was the dominant decision-maker, and embraced a cooperative parenting stance, where the child is afforded the opportunity to nurture their relationship with both their mother and father.
Nothing in the law discriminates by gender. It’s the factors surrounding both parents’ involvement, as well as their living situations, that play the biggest part. For example, if one parent was the primary earner and the other the primary carer, it can mean that the primary carer is afforded more time with the child, as primary earners generally have less time available for childcare responsibilities.
With traditional parenting roles in mind, this can be misconstrued as favouring the mother. But this isn’t true, as gender isn’t what’s considered – it’s how much either parent has contributed to the child’s upbringing that’s really important.
In family law, the child comes first
The most influential consideration in this process is what’s best for the child. When an Australian court reviews a child custody case, they prioritise a child’s wellbeing above all else. If either parent presents a potentially harmful environment for the child, their right to care for them is seriously affected – whether it’s the mother or the father.
In saying this, the denial of contact with one parent – and the negative impacts this entails – is also taken into account. If the child is old enough, they have the opportunity to state their wishes, too.
Outside of having been ordered to stay away due to safety reasons (for example, domestic violence cases), a father has the same right as the mother to care for the child. According to Australian child custody law, both parents should be able to share the responsibilities of a child’s upbringing and wellbeing without infringing on one another’s rights.
Often, when both parents have similar work commitments (such as full-time jobs), they are allotted equal shares of the child’s time. There are certain circumstances that can impact this – for example, if a child is breastfeeding, the mother may be granted full custody. But, in instances like these, the father is often afforded a few hours every two to three days in order to cultivate their bond with the child.
Other factors that can influence a father’s right to see his child in Australia include:
- the physical and mental health of both parents;
- the consistency of parental care leading up to the custody arrangement;
- both parents’ living environments and any risks they may pose to the child;
- both parents’ desired levels of involvement.
Each father’s situation is different, and there’s no out-and-out answer to ensure you get what you rightfully should. But for those who were the primary earners in their family, it may be a good idea to take steps that demonstrate an active commitment to child care – such as changing work routines (where possible), staying on top of school updates regarding your child and taking commute time to schools into account if relocating. Again, these are dependent on your circumstances, and it’s worth seeking legal advice specific to chuld custody before taking any measures.
To ensure your rights as a father are fairly upheld, and that you are granted the time you deserve with your child, speak to Testart Family Lawyers today.