Family Law – We’re Separating – What Happens?

Ironically, the Parliamentary Inquiry into the flawed Child Support operations provides a very concise summary of how your separation interacts with the family law and child support industries.

“The majority of separating parents will have some involvement with the family law system in the period immediately following separation or divorce. Regardless of whether they were married or de facto partners, separating parents must come to an agreement on how to treat their joint assets (a property settlement) and on how their children will be cared for (a parenting agreement or custody order).

Parenting and financial arrangements can be determined either by agreement between the parents or as the result of a court process. In relation to parenting, where parents consider it appropriate they can make a non-binding parenting agreement. In many cases these non-binding agreements are facilitated by mediators at Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) or similar services.

Where parents have reached agreement on parenting arrangements but wish to be formally bound by those arrangements, they can apply to a court for consent orders. In such cases, the court reviews the negotiated agreement and approves it if it is satisfied that the agreement is appropriate and in the best interests of the child.

Where parents cannot agree, a court may make orders which specify parenting arrangements. After the 2006 reforms to the Family Law Act 1975, parents are required to attempt to resolve their differences through mediation before the courts will hear an application for parenting orders.

Similar conditions apply to the division of joint property. Former partners can agree on how their property will be divided, and no involvement from the courts is necessary if they can do so. If required, the parents can formalise their property agreement through consent orders, which can also be applied for in the Family Court.

Finally, where parents cannot reach agreement, a court may make orders which specify how the property will be divided, and in addition may require ongoing maintenance payments to be made.

In 2013-14, the Family Court of Australia finalised just under 13 000 applications for consent orders, which comprised more than 65 per cent of the total number of applications to the court for that year.

Property and parenting arrangements can be complex and difficult to make, particularly where former partners cannot reach agreement on how they should be resolved. They can generate substantial financial and emotional stress for separating parents. Property and parenting arrangements can also interact with the CSP (Child Support Program), and can sometimes generate conflict between parents. This is particularly the case in relation to parenting arrangements, since the amount of time children spend with each parent can affect the amount of child support payable.”

“In addition to the complicated legal and administrative environment described above, parents can find the CSP extremely challenging from an emotional point of view. The CSP enters people’s lives at a difficult time. Initial child support decisions might be made in the first weeks and months after separation – potentially one of the hardest and most stressful times in a person’s life. Conflict between parents is likely to be at its most intense around the time of separation, and so the emotional context for CSP clients is likely to be complex and unsettled.
One of the key reasons for this emotional complexity is the fact that child support combines two of the most powerful influences in a person’s life: love and money.”

Source : “Child Support in Context”