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The family law system strongly encourages parents to reach an agreement regarding the care of their children. The court can formalise these agreements by making a consent order.
Where agreement cannot be reached, an application may be made to the court for a parenting order. In the past, orders were categorised as being residence, contact or specific issues orders. However, following recent legislative amendments introduced by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006, all of these orders are now referred to more broadly as parenting orders. Child maintenance orders have remained a separate category of parenting order.
In making a parenting order, the court will always consider the best interests of the child, having regard to a number of factors set out in the legislation. Those factors include the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents, and the need to protect a child from physical or psychological harm.
Recent legislative changes also require parents to attend family dispute resolution in order to resolve disputes about children prior to lodging an application with the court. These changes are intended to promote the sharing of parental responsibility in the event of family breakdown.
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