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Secure the best future for your children with the Gold Coast’s most experienced child custody lawyers.

When a marriage falls apart, it’s the children who feel it the most.

The pain of watching their family separate is made even worse if they can’t live with the parent most capable of caring for them.

At Bell Legal, we understand how important it is for your children to live in a safe, loving and secure environment, which is why we’ve been helping our clients resolve child custody cases since 1955.

Don’t gamble with your children’s futures.  If you have children and you’re going through a separation, it’s time to talk to the Gold Coast’s best child custody lawyers.

 

How do child custody laws work in Queensland?

Queensland’s child custody laws are detailed in the Family Law Act 1975.

The Act emphasises the responsibilities parents have to their children, which exist even if they separate, get divorced, find new partners, get re-married or were never in a relationship with each to start with.

Parenting arrangement laws are designed to make sure parenting arrangements (how you and your partner divide your child’s care) are in the best interests of your child.  The law states that it’s in the best interests of your child to have a meaningful relationship with both you and your partner, as long as there’s no risk to their safety.

The law also recognises that every family is different, so it encourages a parenting plan that’s practical for that specific family. For example, your parenting arrangements might involve grandparents, other family members or any other people concerned with the welfare of your child.

Parenting arrangements can address things like:

  • Where your child will live
  • What school/childcare your child attends
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Cultural or religious practices
  • Medical decisions
  • With whom your child spends time and communicates with
  • Your child’s financial support
  • Who will pick up and drop off your child from school and other activities, and where the collection point will be
  • What holidays and trips your child goes on

What are the different types of child custody arrangements?

The Family Law Act focuses on the welfare of your child so, instead of using the word ‘custody’, the Act talks about which parent/guardian the child will live with.

Parenting Plan

Not every separation has to end badly.  Former partners often agree on parenting arrangements, which can be outlined in an informal document called a parenting plan.  A parenting plan sets out the care arrangements for a child.  Because parenting plans aren’t legally enforceable, they don’t need to be written in a specific way.

So should you still seek legal advice when creating a parenting plan?  Yes, you should.  Parenting plans are recognised by the Family Law Act, and can be used as evidence in court of a certain agreement between you and your partner at a particular point in time.  Having an experienced family lawyer write a parenting plan means you and your child will be less vulnerable in the future.

Consent Order

If you and your partner agree on parenting arrangements and want to make the agreement legally binding, you can apply to the court for a consent order. Consent orders are written agreement or parenting plans that are approved by the court.

Consent orders can only be changed by another consent order, parenting order or a parenting plan agreed to by both parents, so it’s extremely important to seek legal advice before applying for a consent order.  A good family lawyer can help you form a consent order that protects your future rights and puts you in the best position to effectively look after your child.

Parenting Order

If you and your partner can’t reach an agreement about which parenting arrangements are right for your children, either one of you can apply to the court for a parenting order.  When a parenting order is applied for, the court examines a range of different factors before deciding on an arrangement it feels is best for your child.

Like consent orders, parenting orders are legally binding, so we highly recommend hiring a child custody lawyer to represent your interests in court.  An experienced family lawyer understands which factors are more important than others, and can help create a compelling case as to why you should be the primary carer for your child.

Sole custody of a child is legally referred to as a residence order with ‘sole parental responsibility’.  The court will only grant sole custody when it believes that a shared parenting arrangement is not in the best interests of the child.

Normally, this happens if the parents agree to a sole custody arrangement, or if there is sufficient evidence of harmful or irresponsible conduct by a parent towards their children or partner.

If your ex-partner agrees to a sole custody arrangement, we can assist with obtaining consent orders that will formalise this arrangement.

However, if your ex-partner doesn’t agree to sole custody and there has been no history of family violence or very irresponsible conduct, the court will be reluctant to make a sole custody order.

If there is evidence of violent conduct by your ex-partner towards the children or towards yourself, you aren’t obligated to attend family dispute resolution – seek legal counsel as soon as possible so you can get advice on how best to best protect yourself and your children.

Child Custody FAQs

Do I have to go to court to decide who has custody of my child?

No. You should always try to reach an agreement with your partner before you ask the court to make that decision for you. If you’re having trouble agreeing to a parenting plan, try alternative dispute resolution, a non-legal way of settling disputes that can include processes like mediation.

What is family dispute resolution?

Unless the situation is urgent or there’s a risk of family violence, you and your partner are required to try to reach an agreement about parenting arrangements before you can apply to the court for an order.

The most common way to do this is through family dispute resolution.  Family dispute resolution is a neutral mediation process designed to help both parents find common ground they can agree upon.  It’s conducted by accredited, unbiased family dispute resolution practitioners, who are accessible through the government-funded Family Relationship Centres or through organisations like Relationships Australia

Alternatively, there are a number of private family dispute resolution practitioners who may be able to assist. If family dispute resolution fails, a certificate will be issued enabling court proceedings to start.

How much does a lawyer cost for child custody?

The exact amount you’ll pay for a family lawyer depends on how complex your child custody dispute is, whether the other parent cooperates, and how long it takes.  For example, the cost of reviewing a parenting plan is significantly less than the cost of representing you in court if you and your partner can’t agree on a parenting arrangement.

As a client, you should be provided with a costs agreement before your lawyer starts doing any work.  A costs agreement outlines which family lawyer will be assisting with your matter and specifies their hourly rate.

Depending on their experience and seniority, a family lawyer’s hourly rate can range from $350–$650. All lawyers should seek the approval of the client before doing any work on their behalf.

How do I write an affidavit for child custody?

An affidavit is a statement signed under oath or affirmation that is used as evidence in a court proceeding.  When seeking a parenting order, you will have to file an affidavit to support the order you’re asking for. The affidavit normally outlines the factual and detailed history of the child and their life.

To allow the court to decide on what parenting arrangement is in the best interests of your child, you should address the following topics when writing an affidavit:

  • The background details of your child
  • Any views expressed by your child regarding the parenting arrangements
  • Whether your child is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and, if so, whether they are involved with that culture’s customs and traditions
  • Your child’s current living arrangements
  • The nature of your child’s relationship with you and your partner
  • You and your partner’s individual involvement in decisions affecting the child
  • You and your partner’s individual abilities to fulfill your obligations as parents to the child
  • The likely effect of any changes in your child’s circumstances
  • The practical difficulty of a parenting arrangement
  • The maturity, sex, and lifestyle of your child
  • Any history of family violence, even if the violence occurred in a previous relationship and is unrelated to your current situation

How do I get a character reference letter for child custody?

Normally, the court doesn’t consider personal references when deciding a child custody case – they’re regarded as opinions rather than factual evidence. The evidence placed before the court should cover the history of the parenting relationship and information covering the factors the Court needs to consider when making parenting orders.

When gathering evidence to support your application, remember that the primary consideration for the court is what is in the best interests of the child.  A knowledgeable family lawyer will be able to advise you which evidence will best support your submission.

How are parenting arrangements decided?

If you go to court to resolve child custody arrangements, the Court will decide parenting orders based on Part VII of the Family Law Act, which specifically covers children’s matters. The Act is very clear that the Court must make decisions in the best interests of the child or children.

What those ‘best interests’ are depends on a number of factors, which may be different in every case.  Section 60CC of the Act sets out a list of considerations that the Court needs to consider, which you can read through below:

Best interests of the child: primary considerations

  1. The benefit to a child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents
  2. The need to protect the child (which is the most important primary consideration)

Best interests of the child: secondary considerations

  1. The views and opinions of the child, subject to the child’s maturity and understanding (a 3-year-old’s wishes might not be weighted as heavily by the Court as a 15-year-old’s)
  2. The child’s relationships with parents and other persons
  3. The extent to which parents have taken the opportunity to be involved in the child’s life
  4. The maintenance of the child by the parents
  5. The likely effect upon the child of any changes in circumstances, including any separation from a parent
  6. The practical difficulties and expenses of the case
  7. The capacity of parents and others to meet the child’s needs
  8. The maturity, sex, lifestyle and background of the child and the parents so far as relevant
  9. The right to enjoy Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island culture where relevant
  10. The attitude to parenthood demonstrated by the parents
  11. Any family violence, regardless of whether orders have been made or not
  12. The benefit of ending court proceedings
  13. Anything else the court thinks relevant

The sheer number of factors that inform child custody arrangements mean the court’s decisions are almost never clear-cut.  Retaining an experienced family lawyer who understands how different considerations are weighted is essential for receiving the best possible outcome for your child custody case.

 

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Please note that all information on this page is general information only. It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such or relied upon.  If you think you might need to talk to a solicitor, get in touch with one of our Gold Coast family lawyers.