This week we consider the issues involved in seeking a change to court-ordered parenting arrangements.
The overarching consideration for all parenting orders is what is in the best interests of the child.
It is a better outcome for separated parents to reach an agreement between themselves about parenting arrangements as opposed to going to court. This saves everyone the stress and high costs of a court hearing, and the children see their parents working co-operatively.
Can court orders be varied by agreement?
If both parents agree to change parenting arrangements, they can apply to the Court for consent to vary earlier orders.
Not all parents can reach agreement, and in some cases, the issues are complicated and require the assistance of a Court to decide what is best for the child.
What if the other parent doesn’t agree to a change in the court orders?
There are circumstances where a parent may need to ask the Family Law Courts for assistance if there has been a “significant change in circumstances” that would justify the Court altering an earlier court order. Court orders (made with the consent of the parties or by the Court after a contested hearing) are intended to remain in place without alteration. This is to provide stability for the children and parents involved. The Courts have stated that “stability in the lives of children and also in the lives of adults is an essential prerequisite to their well being” (Freeman (1987) FLC 910857).
If you believe your changed circumstances necessitate an alteration of existing orders, speak to a family lawyer. There are also a number of local agencies and family dispute resolution practitioners who are available to help separated parents resolve issues without going to court.
When applying for a change to existing orders, you must show there has been a significant change to the circumstances that existed when those original orders were made and that change is warranted. Seeking a change to orders is not something a Court will entertain lightly. A child’s wish to change time arrangements is not always enough to persuade a Court to reopen a matter. In one case, a Federal Magistrate said the wishes of 13 and 15-year-old siblings for changed arrangements were not enough saying “parenting orders should not be varied or discharged according to the wishes of a child.
Do I need legal advice?
Seek legal advice so that you are informed of the available options.
If you would like further information please contact Andrew Crooke or a member of our Family Law Team on 07 4616 9898.
Prepared by Andrew Crooke