Common Child Custody Arrangements

common child custody arrangements in melbourne law studio

Your family’s story will be different from any other family – and that’s ok. No matter what your unique circumstances are, there are child custody options that can ensure your child thrives. 

We want to make the transition into the next stage of your family life as smooth as possible.

Keep reading – on this page, you can learn about the most common child custody arrangements, and get answers to frequently asked questions about child custody laws in Victoria Australia. 

Do you need help navigating your child custody options? Book your obligation-free 15-minute consultation with a family lawyer at Melbourne Law Studio. 

For trusted family law advice, call (03) 9021 1421 or book online now.

Common Child Custody Arrangements – Your Infographic Guide

Mebourne Law Studio - Common Child Custody Arrangements - Family Lawyers Melbourne

Firstly, what are the most common child custody arrangements?

The word “custody” can mean different things depending on who is talking, and what the context of the conversation is. Today, when describing your rights as a parent, the courts prefer to talk about “parenting arrangements” and “child contact” instead of custody. However, regardless of what these arrangements are called, the basic principles of the child custody options available to you are still the same.

Legal custody

The parent/s or family member who is responsible for your child’s major life decisions is said to have legal custody. Legal custody is a blanket term for the two most common child custody arrangements:

  • Sole custody: Where one parent is responsible for these decisions and;
  • Joint custody: Where both parents have an agreement about how to make these decisions.

The types of things the parent/s with legal custody will be responsible for deciding, include which religion their child will or won’t be raised in, health care choices, and where they will go to school.

In Victoria, the courts will assume that it is in your child’s best interest for both parents to have ‘equal shared parental responsibility’, unless you can prove otherwise. So, it is safe to assume that both parents have “legal custody” over their child until a parenting plan is agreed upon, or the court makes a parenting order.

Joint custody

Sometimes called shared custody, this is an arrangement where your child divides their time between both parents’ houses. These agreements work well when both parents have the time and ability to roughly share equal responsibility for their child. 

The key to making a joint custody arrangement work is working together to create a parenting plan. You will use it as a blueprint to make important and day-to-day decisions that affect your child.

The best parenting plans usually include a rotating schedule that can be easily followed. Your child’s wellbeing should always be at the forefront of any child custody agreement, but it’s important to remember that you will be more likely to stick to a roster that takes both parents’ needs and lifestyles into consideration. 

Here are a few common two-week schedules you will find in popular joint custody agreement examples:

2-2-3 Plan: This schedule is great for parents with younger children who do not  cope well with being apart from either parent for very long. 

  • Monday, Tuesday – Mum
  • Wednesday, Thursday – Dad
  • Friday through to Sunday – Mum
  • Monday, Tuesday – Dad
  • Wednesday, Thursday – Mum
  • Friday through to Sunday – Dad

2-2-5 Plan: This schedule is better suited to middle school and high school children who have extracurricular activities to fit into the timetable and need to be with the same parent on the same weekday. 

  • Monday, Tuesday – Mum
  • Wednesday, Thursday – Dad
  • Friday through to Sunday – Mum or Dad (alternate every week)
  • Monday, Tuesday – Mum
  • Wednesday, Thursday – Dad
  • Friday through to Sunday – Mum or Dad (alternate every week)

One week on, one week off: This is the simplest schedule to follow and works well for older children who are happy to spend an extended amount of time with either parent.

  • Monday through to Sunday – Mum
  • Monday through to Sunday – Dad

Don’t forget: You should also account for the unexpected, be sure to include a plan for when the schedule can’t be followed.

 

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Sole custody

Sole custody is when only one parent is given legal custody of the child. This often occurs when one parent is not safe for the child to be around, or not present in their child’s life. 

If you have been granted sole custody, this does not necessarily mean that the other parent is not allowed to see their child. If the court believes it is in the child’s best interest to still have some level of contact, they may grant the other parent visitation rights. This ruling will allow them to spend time together on weekends or holidays.

Physical custody

Physical custody is not a technical legal term, but it is often used when referring to which parent the child lives with on a day-to-day basis. When your child is in your physical custody, you are responsible for making the routine decisions about what they will eat, their bedtime, and what they can do in their free time. 

Unless the court has made orders that grant you sole custody, you cannot assume that, because you have physical custody, you do not have to include the other parent when making bigger decisions about your child’s life. 

Grandparent custody

When neither of a child’s parents are fit to be responsible for their wellbeing, a grandparent or other family member can make an informal care agreement with the parents, or apply to be granted legal custody. 

Family members who wish to gain custody must go through the same mediation and court processes that the parents would normally undertake. If you are in this situation, it’s a good idea to start gathering evidence that you have been caring for the child. 

Remember: Regardless of who is applying for custody, the court will make a decision based on the child’s best interests.

Grandparents and certain family members can also apply for visitation rights. 

 

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What is the process for making the best child custody arrangements possible?

When you’re exploring your child custody options, it can be quite confusing trying to figure out the next step to take. The basic process is:

  1. Try to work out your own parenting plan: You need to consult with the other parent about things like living arrangements, visiting schedules, communication with other family members, the costs of raising your child, and many other major decisions related to schooling, health care, and religion. If you don’t know what this document should look like, search online for an example of a co-parenting agreement. When you have come up with a plan that you both agree with, you can get the court to turn this into legally binding consent orders.
  2. Talk to your kids about the agreement: Try to find age appropriate way they can be involved in the process. When children feel a level of ownership about the decisions, it will make the transition process smoother for everyone in the family.
  3. Start family dispute resolution: If you can’t come to a custody agreement together, an independent family dispute resolution practitioner can help you. You can use the Attorney General’s Family dispute resolution register to make sure your practitioner is accredited and registered (this is a legal requirement). Your practitioner will need to issue you with a certificate before you can proceed to court.
  4. Engage a child custody lawyer: If family dispute resolution does not work, you will  need legal advice so that you can prepare to take your matter to court. As family courts are different across Australia’s states and territories, you will  need to look for a family lawyer who understands the child custody laws in Victoria. .
  5. Seek parenting orders in court: Going to court is a last resort, and it is often the case that neither party leaves feeling like they’ve got the best child custody arrangements possible. However, sometimes this is a necessary step. If  you do go to court to work out your parental responsibility arrangements, the main things that will be considered are:
  • How your child can be protected from harm (be it physical or emotional)
  • How relationships with important people in your child’s life can be maintained

 

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Mother with her two children at the seaside watching a sunset over the ocean

Common child custody arrangements – FAQs

How do I make a parenting plan?

The key to creating a strong parenting plan is to be realistic about how you envision your lives working within the child custody arrangement. Things you need to consider while you’re drafting your plan include:
– How frequently your child will have to travel (especially if you do not live near the other parent)
– Whether your current childcare arrangements will change
– How much routine your child will need.
– How long your child can handle being away from their other parent at one time (especially if they are young)
– Provisions for family holidays, school holidays, and after-school activities
– What to do if one parent does not get their time with the child (for example in the case of a medical or family emergency)
– Options that will be of most benefit to the child’s future. 
– When you will likely revisit and adjust your plan
– Making a parenting plan requires a lot of forethought, patience, and negotiation. You may find it very helpful to get an experienced child custody lawyer to provide a draft plan to work from. 

Do most common child custody arrangements include child support?

No. How much child support a parent should pay is assessed by Services Australia. In Australia, child support is a very complex part of divorce and child custody matters. It is often very difficult to collect arrears once three months have passed. It may be in your best interest to put any child custody disagreements aside, and genuinely agree to split all parenting expenses. 

It could save you a lot of time and energy. 

At what stage should I get a child custody lawyer involved?

Even if you have a very harmonious relationship with the other parent and don’t intend to go to court, it’s a good idea to get professional help when you first start drafting your parenting plan. 

The family law team at Melbourne Law Studio can offer you a free 15-minute consultation, to help you get across what your parenting plan involves, and common issues that parents face when dealing with divorce and child custody in Victoria.

What are some quick and easy tools for making the best child custody arrangements?

There has never been a better time for opening communication channels between co-parents. You can reduce your stress (and gather accurate documentation should you need to go to court) by agreeing to use some of the following tools:
Google Calendars: Sync your schedules digitally and you won’t have to spend unnecessary time messaging and calling each other back and forth.
Expense logging apps: There are plenty of apps on the market that allow you to photograph receipts and provide running tallies of child-related expenses that you have incurred.
Cloud based document storage: The cloud is perfect for sharing important files such as medical records, school consent forms, report cards, and bills.

Which parent gets to decide the school my child goes to?

When it comes to joint custody, switching schools is a very contentious issue. There are many valid reasons for changing your child’s school after a separation, including a change of residence, or that private schooling suddenly becoming unaffordable. 

Unless an order is in place which states that only one parent has responsibility for the child, both parents must genuinely try to make a joint decision about schooling. The court will not make a ruling until the parents have consulted with each other. 

It’s also worth noting that, when it comes to divorce and child custody in Victoria, family law courts are notoriously slow. It can take months or even years to make a ruling, so it will save you time and money if you work together to make a  decision. You may even consider using  a child custody lawyer to provide you with joint custody agreement examples that you can use to create your own agreement. 

How involved should my child be in choosing between child custody options?

Your child’s thoughts, wishes, and feelings should be considered when you are deciding the best child custody arrangements for your family. How this works will largely depend upon their age. Toddlers may simply want to choose the clothes they take to their other parent’s house, while teenagers will want to know which parent can take them to work, teach them to drive, or shuttle them to sports activities. What is important is that your child feels as though they have  had a say, as then they will  be  more likely to co-operate with the new arrangement. 

What happens if the other parent doesn’t stick to the  child custody agreement?

According to the child custody laws in Victoria, in most cases, you are required to undergo family dispute resolution before you ask the courts to make any orders about parental responsibility.

How long are the most common child custody agreements?

The duration of the parenting plan will be up to you and your child’s other parent. Parents who have strong communication skills and an amicable relationship may want to keep the agreement short and sweet, and just include a paragraph or two about how they will make changes to the agreement, if  the need arises. Parents who are not on the best of terms may wish to provide a lot of detail, so that they can feel secure that their child’s needs will be met when they are not around. 

A good child custody lawyer will be able to give you joint custody agreement examples so that you can get a feel for the type of agreement that is right for your situation. 

Do I have to go to family dispute resolution if there is violence, substance abuse, or an incapacitating mental illness involved in my separation?

There are circumstances where family dispute resolution isn’t the best course of action. For example, one parent may be a threat to the child’s safety, or may have their capacity to participate in family dispute resolution severely affected by drug or alcohol abuse. If you have these concerns, you will need to get a family dispute resolution practitioner to issue you a certificate explaining that family dispute resolution was assessed as inappropriate for your case. 

It’s also worth knowing that, if family violence is an issue, you can ask the court to make an urgent parenting order before your final hearing. 

I run a business, will the most common child custody arrangements accommodate for my demanding schedule?

Many business owners who are going through a separation, quickly realise that they must adjust their work schedule to meet their parenting responsibilities, and they also need their parenting plan to include room for their business. 

At Melbourne Law Studio, we can help you on both fronts. We offer commercial business law services that can help you structure your business and its agreements to better suit your lifestyle. See our commercial contract drafting – back to basics post for more information about how to create contracts that best serve your needs. Our commercial lawyers can incorporate family law advice when working on your matter, so that you achieve  an outcome that’s tailored to your unique needs and lifestyle.

Melbourne Law Studio’s family lawyers have the experience and sensitivity you need to navigate the complicated child custody laws in Victoria. 

Your situation will be different from anyone else’s. We understand that, and to make your life easier, we offer our clients:

  • Fixed fees: Find out what you’ll pay from the outset.
  • Payment plans: Choose an option that suits your budget.
  • Flexible appointments: Meet when it’s convenient to you.
  • Easy to understand language: Know exactly where you stand.

Find out your next move with a free 15-minute consultation today. 

Call (03) 9021 1421 to book your consultation, or schedule your appointment online now.

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