Legal Guide

Do Unmarried Parents Have Equal Rights?

According to Australian family law, children have a right to enjoy a good relationship with both parents. They have the right to be protected from any kind of harm. While making decisions about children, Australian courts consider the child's best interests and the circumstances under which the child will be protected. If you and your partner are looking for more information about parenting laws and rights for unmarried parents, you can contact one of the top 10 lawyers in Australia for help. 

The Family Law Act of 1975 is gender-neutral. It doesn't make any assumptions about parenting roles. Besides the rights enjoyed by everyone under the human rights treaties, children and their parents enjoy special rights. These rights cover:

  • The child's best interests
  • Responsibilities, duties, and rights of the parents
  • Separation of children
  • Adoption
  • Children involved in criminal proceedings
  • Refugee Children 
  • Families and disabilities

What Rights Do Unmarried Parents Have?

The Australian Family Law doesn't differentiate between married and unmarried parents when deciding on granting child custody. The only thing taken into consideration is the child's happiness, wellbeing, and safety. Unmarried parents will have the same rights and responsibilities as married parents when caring and providing for their children. 

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility refers to any duties, responsibilities, powers, and authority any parent has towards their children. Every parent, married or unmarried, will have parental responsibility towards the child. This also means that both parents can make decisions independently about their children. Parents who want to jointly make major long-term decisions for their children can request a court order for Equal Shared Parental Responsibility. Major long-term decisions include the choice of school, health insurance, and the religion the child will follow.

 However, it is important to remember that equal shared parental responsibility is not the same as equal time with the child. Sometimes, the court can decide to remove parental responsibility from both or one of the parents if it deems it to be in the child’s best interest. At such times, the court assigns parental responsibility to a legal guardian. 

Parenting Time

There are no strict rules regarding which parent the child will spend more time with or live with, in the case of unmarried or separated parents. In earlier days, this was referred to as making custody or contact arrangements. However, Australian family law no longer uses these terms. Similarly, there is also no rule that the child should spend equal time with both parents. In most cases, the court will leave it to both parents to discuss their children's requirements and needs and develop a plan for where they can live and spend time with them. There are many ways unmarried parents can ensure their children have a healthy and ongoing relationship with them. Both partners won't be required to go to court if they can agree on future arrangements for the child. They can either create a parenting agreement or get consent orders that the court approves. 

What Are Parenting Orders?

A parenting order refers to a set of orders that the court makes regarding parenting arrangements for the child. The court can give these orders based on an agreement between the parents involved or after a trial or court hearing. If the parents are involved in the decision-making, these orders are called consent orders. Every individual involved in the case should follow the parenting orders given by the court. A parenting order may include one or more of the following:

  • Who the child will live with
  • The amount of time the child will spend with each parent and other family members like grandparents, uncles, etc.
  • How the parental responsibilities will be allocated
  • How the child will communicate with the parent that they don't live with
  • How the child will communicate with other family members
  • Other aspects involving the child's welfare, care, and development.

The Childrens' Best Interest

The Australian Family Law gives utmost importance to the child's best interests when making decisions about their life. It expects parents also to focus on the same. Most unmarried parents will agree to make their own arrangements to care for their children after having multiple joint discussions. However, if the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the children, they can seek the help of specialist family mediation services to help them decide on a plan that they both agree to or compromise. If the parents cannot agree even after the help of the family mediation services, a judge will have to decide in the family court. The judge will decide based on what is best for the child as per the Family Law Act.

Financial Responsibility Towards The Children

According to Australia's Family Law, both parents, whether married or unmarried, have a duty towards financially supporting the child irrespective of who the child lives with. Parents can discuss this matter among themselves and determine a plan or apply for a child support assessment. The Department of Human Services, which is responsible for the child support program, can assist parents in providing their children with the appropriate support. 

When applying for parenting orders for unmarried parents, it is best to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer. There could be many complications that you may not be able to understand. A good lawyer can guide you and help you determine a parenting plan for your child. They will inform you about your rights, responsibilities, and obligations towards the law and your children. They will also help you develop a plan keeping your child's safety, happiness, and wellbeing in mind. In case of any animosity between the unmarried parents, the lawyers can also help build a case and take it to trial. While unmarried parents may not always be easy, you can learn more about your rights with a little legal help. 


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