Applying for sole parental responsibility: A complete guide

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What is sole parental responsibility? How is it different? Valid reasons for SPR. Process of applying for SPR.
Australia Family and Matrimonial
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When it comes to making important decisions for your child, having sole parental responsibility means you have the legal authority to make those decisions on your own. This can include decisions about your child's education, health, and overall welfare.

Understanding the application process and knowing how to apply for sole parental responsibility is crucial if you believe this is the best option for your child.

In this guide, our child custody lawyers in Sydney will help you understand how you can apply for sole parental responsibility in Australia.

What is sole parental responsibility?

Sole parental responsibility means that one parent has the legal right to make all major decisions concerning the child without needing to consult the other parent. This can cover areas such as where the child goes to school, their medical treatments, and other significant aspects of their upbringing.

It's important to note that sole parental responsibility is not the same as "sole custody", so while one parent may have the right to make decisions for the child if they have sole parental responsibility, it does not mean that the child cannot spend time with their other parent.

You can learn more about this in our sole parental responsibility guide.

How does it differ from equal shared parental responsibility

Equal shared parental responsibility means both parents must consult each other and make joint decisions about major long-term issues concerning their child. This is different from sole parental responsibility, where only one parent has the authority to make these decisions.

When parents have equal shared parental responsibility, they only need to consult with each other on major decisions that could have long-term consequences, and not on day-to-day issues, like what the child should wear.

Another important matter to be aware of is that equal shared parental responsibility does not mean that the child must spend equal time with each parent, it is purely about making decisions for the child.

Valid reasons for sole parental responsibility

The court will consider granting sole parental responsibility if there are valid reasons to believe that it is in the best interests of the child. Some reasons include:

  • Family violence: If there is a history of domestic violence or family violence, the court may grant sole parental responsibility to protect the child from physical or psychological harm.
  • Child abuse: If there is evidence of child abuse or neglect by the other parent, sole parental responsibility may be considered.
  • Inability to make joint decisions: If the parents are unable to communicate or make joint decisions, the court may decide that sole parental responsibility is necessary.
  • Immediate risk: If there is an immediate risk of harm to the child, the court may grant sole parental responsibility to ensure the child's safety.

Process for obtaining sole parental responsibility

To obtain sole parental responsibility, it must either be agreed upon by the parents or a court must award it to you. This can happen by:

  1. By Agreement: If both parents agree that one parent should have sole parental responsibility, they can make arrangements in a parenting plan (which is not legally enforceable) or they can formalise this agreement through consent orders.
  2. By Court Order: If the parents cannot agree, one parent can apply for a court order to obtain sole parental responsibility. This is often necessary as parents are usually reluctant to relinquish their ability to make decisions regarding their children.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to apply for sole parental responsibility through the court:

  1. Seek legal advice: Speak to a family lawyer who specialises in parenting matters. They can provide guidance on whether you have reasonable grounds to apply for sole parental responsibility.
  2. Family dispute resolution: Before applying to the court, you must attend a family dispute resolution conference to try and reach an agreement with the other parent (unless it is unsafe to do so). If this fails, you can then apply to the court.
  3. File an application: Submit an application to the Family Court for a parenting order. This application should detail why you are seeking sole parental responsibility and provide evidence to support your case, such as police reports, witness statements or medical records.
  4. Court hearing: Attend the court hearing where a judge will consider all evidence and decide based on the best interests of the child. The court will take into account factors such as the child's relationship with each parent, the child's wishes, and any history of family violence or abuse.
  5. Court order: If the court grants your application, you will receive a court order for sole parental responsibility. This order allows you to make all major decisions regarding your child without needing to consult the other parent.
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