Children: Overview

icon for children

Children from separated families can develop and flourish just as well as children from families that are still together, especially if they are supported and encouraged to maintain a positive relationship with both parents and other significant people in their lives, like grandparents and other relatives, where it is safe to do so. 

In some cases, parental separation can be a stressful time for a child. How children react to separation and divorce often depends on their age, temperament and the level of cooperation or conflict between their parents. They may experience a range of emotions which are difficult for them to deal with. If you or your child are feeling stressed following separation, see the publication Separation and stress.

Children from separated families can develop and flourish just as well as children from families that are still together, especially if they are supported and encouraged to maintain a positive relationship with both parents and other significant people in their lives, like grandparents and other relatives.

The Marriage, families and separation brochure provides information for people considering, or those affected by, separation or divorce.

What does a child need?

A child needs the continuing care and support of both parents, where possible and safe. They will worry less if both parents can agree about what is going to happen and explain this to them. Both parents should: 

  • reassure your child that you still love them
  • remember that accepting, and dealing with, the separation will enable you to better assist your child to do the same
  • allow your child the right to love both of you – don't make them choose
  • tell your child that they are not to blame, and help them to discuss their feelings – they often blame themselves, especially when parents fight about them, or things they have done
  • listen sympathetically to your child’s feelings and opinions without judgment
  • talk with the other parent about issues relating to your child
  • make sure your child doesn’t hear or see you fighting
  • keep your child out of your arguments with or about the other parent
  • be positive about the other parent when talking to your child
  • turn to other adults for emotional support, rather than to your child
  • talk with your child's teachers so they understand the situation, and
  • keep your focus on your child's wellbeing, rather than on what seems 'fair' for you.

There is more information about how conflict between parents and family violence can affect children in the fact sheets Parental conflict and its effect on children and The impact of family violence on children.

What do you need to consider when making parenting arrangements for your child?

Every family is different, so the arrangements that work for your family may be different from other families. Try to make arrangements that will work the best for your child.

When making arrangements for your child, you will need to consider:

  • what arrangements would promote the safety of your child, and each person who has care of the child, including safety from being subjected or exposed to family violence, abuse, neglect or other harm
  • any views expressed by your child about parenting arrangements
  • the age of the child which is very important in deciding what arrangements will work establishing a regular routine so the child knows the routine and what to expect when, but also being flexible when required 
  • giving plenty of notice if you wish to change the routine, for example, for special family occasions 
  • how their time will be spent with other significant persons in their lives, such as grandparents and other relatives 
  • who will look after them after school and where will they spend holidays 
  • any other things such as choice of school, health care, sport, or religious matters, and 
  • how to ensure the child continues to enjoy their culture. 

If it is safe to do so, it is generally best if you can reach your own agreement with your former spouse or partner.

Making your own agreement is often best for your child, you and your former partner. It will save you both money, time and stress. For more information about ways you may be able to reach an agreement without the need for court action, see Separate smarter.

There are three main ways you can make arrangements for your child after separation:

  1. informal arrangements
  2. parenting plans, and
  3. parenting orders, including by consent.

What sort of parenting arrangement you make may depend on how you and your former partner come to the agreement.

TIP: Divorce is a completely separate process to parenting proceedings.

The law relating to children and their best interests

Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975 gives the Court power to make orders for the care and welfare about children in Australia (except Western Australia). Orders about children are commonly referred to parenting orders, even though they can apply to a person who is not a parent of the child the proceedings relate to.

When determining any dispute about children (including about with whom a child should live and/or spend time, who should make decisions about a child, and matters like where child should go to school or whether a child should have a medical procedure), the Court must regard the best interests of the child[NC1]  as its paramount consideration. The Family Law Act 1975, provides guidance as to how the Court determines a child’s best interests. The Court must consider the following matters in determining what is in the child’s best interests:

  • What arrangements would promote the safety (including safety from being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence, abuse, neglect or other harm) of:
    • the child, and
    • each person who has care of the child.
  • Any views expressed by the child. 
  • The developmental, psychological, emotional and cultural needs of the child.
  • The capacity of each person who has or is proposed to have parental responsibility for the child to provide for the child’s developmental, psychological, emotional and cultural needs.
  • The benefit to the child of being able to have a relationship with the child's parents, and other people who are significant to the child, where it is safe to do so.
  • Anything else that is relevant to the particular circumstances of the child. 

In considering arrangements which promote the safety of the child or person who has care of the child, the Court must consider any history of family violence, abuse or neglect and any family violence order that applies or has applied to the child or a member of the child’s family. 

For an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, the Court must also consider the child’s right to enjoy their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture by having the support, opportunity and encouragement necessary:

  • to connect with, and maintain their connection with, members of their family and with their community, culture, country and language;
  • to explore the full extent of that culture, consistent with the child’s age and developmental level and the child’s views; and
  • to develop a positive appreciation of that culture; 

References to best interests here are still correct and do not need to be amended.  [NC1]

Can the Court make orders about my child?

The Court generally has jurisdiction to make orders for the care and welfare of children in all states and territories except Western Australia (where the Family Court of Western Australia has jurisdiction).

If your child is in care under a child welfare law of a state or territory, the Court cannot make a parenting order about them, except with the consent of the relevant child welfare authority. This applies even if your child comes into care under a child welfare law after you already have proceedings in the Court about your child.

How is the voice of the child considered?

The court process is designed to balance the need to protect children from conflict with the child’s right to have a voice in decisions being made about them. This video is about how a child’s voice is considered in a family law case in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

3:56 MIN

An AUSLAN version of this video is also available.

Other considerations in parenting matters

Each family is different and their needs are unique. If any of the following apply to your situation please see the additional information:

  • If you are not a child’s parent but you are a person concerned with the care, welfare and development of a child, or you are a grandparent of a child, see Grandparents and others.
  • If you want to change your parenting orders or current arrangements, see Changing parenting arrangements.
  • If you believe your application for a parenting order is urgent see, My application is urgent.
  • If you have a current parenting order that you believe has been breached or not complied with, see Compliance and enforcement.
  • If your child normally lives with you and hasn’t been returned to you, or is missing, you can apply for orders to help you to find your child, see Recovery orders.
  • If your child has relocated without your agreement, have been taken overseas without your permission, or without the authorisation of a court or has not been returned (as agreed) from overseas, see Relocation, travel and the Hague Convention.
  • If you have applied to the Court for a parenting order in some circumstances, the Court may appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer to represent your child, see Independent Children’s Lawyer.

Safety, risk and family violence

If you are in immediate danger call 000

The Court takes family violence very seriously. See How the Court considers safety and risk for more information.

If you or your child is affected by family violence and safety concerns there are a number of organisations that provide advice and support. See Family Violence: Get help and support.

If you have any concerns about your safety while attending court, you must let the Court know. See Safety at court for more information about safety plans and what the Court can do.

Legal advice

You are not required to be represented by a lawyer, or to seek legal advice, before entering into consent orders or applying to the Court, or if you have been served with an application. However, family law is complex, and getting legal advice will help you to better understand your rights and responsibilities.

For information on how to get legal advice, see Find a lawyer and Support services.

Practice directions

Practice directions are procedural guidelines issued by the Court. They complement legislation, rules and regulations. They provide specific direction about the practice and procedure that must be followed in certain types of proceedings.

Practice directions are issued by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge upon advice of judges of the Court, pursuant to the Court’s inherent power to control its own processes, as well as the power under the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 for the Court to give directions about the practice and procedure to be followed in a proceeding.

In general, practice directions are issued to:

  • complement particular legislative provisions or rules of court
  • set out more detailed procedures for particular types of proceedings, and
  • notify parties and their lawyers of matters which require their attention.

Below are links to the practice directions that apply to this area of law: