Sole Parental Responsibility

What is Sole Parental Responsibility?

Sole parental responsibility means a single parent has the legal authority to make all major long-term decisions about their child’s life without needing to consult with the other parent.

It does not necessarily mean the child exclusively lives with that parent.

When Sole Parental Responsibility is Granted

Courts are generally reluctant to grant sole parental responsibility, but it may be considered in situations such as:

  • Family Violence or Abuse: Where one parent poses a significant risk to the child’s or the other parent’s safety.
  • Inability to Cooperate: If parents have a history of extreme conflict and are unable to communicate or make joint decisions for the child.
  • Inability to Locate the Other Parent: If one parent’s whereabouts are unknown and they cannot be involved in decision-making.
  • Best Interests of the Child: Where sole parental responsibility is determined to be in the absolute best interests of the child, even if the above situations don’t strictly apply. This could include cases where one parent is consistently absent or shows little interest in participating in the child’s life.
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Is sole custody the same thing as sole parental responsibility?

While they are related, sole custody and sole parental responsibility in Australia are not the same thing. Here’s a breakdown of the distinctions:

Here’s a table comparing sole parental responsibility and sole custody in Australia:

Feature Sole Parental Responsibility Sole Custody
Authority to make major long-term decisions about the child's life
Where the child primarily lives and who is responsible for day-to-day care
Examples of Decisions Covered
Education, health, religion, name changes, major relocation
Daily routines, supervision, general well-being
Relationship to Living Arrangements
Can exist independently of where the child lives. A parent can have sole parental responsibility while the child lives primarily with the other parent.
Implies the child lives primarily or exclusively with that parent
Frequency in Australian Law
Courts use this term and can grant sole parental responsibility
Courts are moving away from the term "custody" in favor of more specific language like "lives with", "spends time with", and "parental responsibility"

How to Get Sole Parental Responsibility?

Getting sole parental responsibility in Australia is a complex process and requires a court order. Here’s a breakdown of how it works and what you need to consider:

1. Understand When It's Granted

Courts are reluctant to grant sole parental responsibility. It’s generally considered only when:

  • Safety is a Concern: One parent (or someone in their household) has engaged in family violence or abuse against the child or other parent.
  • Extreme Conflict: Parents are completely unable to communicate or make joint decisions in the child’s best interests.
  • One Parent is Unavailable: One parent is absent, their whereabouts are unknown, or they show no interest in being involved in the child’s life.

2. Build Your Case

You MUST provide strong evidence supporting your claim for sole parental responsibility. This could include:

  • Police reports or intervention orders related to abuse
  • Medical records or psychological assessments
  • Witness statements or expert testimony
  • Evidence of the other parent’s inability to make sound decisions or their lack of involvement

3. Seek Legal Representation

This is crucial. A family lawyer will:

  • Advise you on the likelihood of success
  • Help gather and present evidence effectively
  • Guide you through the court process

4. File an Application

  • Your lawyer will help file an application with the appropriate family law court.
  • The other parent will be notified and have an opportunity to respond.

5. Court Hearing

  • The court will consider all evidence and arguments.
  • They’ll prioritize the child’s best interests in their decision.
  • If sole parental responsibility is granted, a court order will be issued.

Any Questions?
Speak to One of Our Lawyers.


    Sole Parental Responsibility Example

    Malcher & Malcher [2016] FamCA 1063 (9 December 2016)

    Mr and Ms Malcher married in 2000 and had three children born in 2002, 2003 and 2006. They separated in 2011.

    This 2016 hearing in Sydney determined the parenting arrangements for the children, as well as other subjects of dispute including property division and child support.

    Ms Malcher sought parenting orders that would grant her sole parental responsibility for all major long-term issues in respect of the children including, but not limited to, education, religious and cultural upbringing and health.

    Mr Malcher sought equal shared parental responsibility for the three children.

    Among the main issues affecting the judgement was the inability of the husband and wife to communicate in a rational, appropriate, respectful way.

    The husband consistently failed to respond to communication by the wife, and when he did communicate it was with disrespect and disdain. In public places together, he often sought to humiliate or intimidate her.

    The wife gave accounts of domestic violence perpetrated towards her by the husband throughout their relationship.

    This included the husband hitting the wife and throwing objects at the wife, sometimes in front of other people or the children.

    The husband denied these incidents, but the judge did not accept his denials and determined that the wife was telling the truth.

    A point of conflict regarding major long-term decisions for the children was the choice of school for the youngest child.

    The husband and wife were unable to reach any agreement on this point.

    Sole parental responsibility was granted in favour of the wife.

    This was due to, among other reasons, the failure of the parties to engage in appropriate communication and the husband’s attitude towards the wife.

    There was also very little to criticise about the wife’s parenting capacity.

    The children were primarily to live with the wife but spend time with the husband during the school term and school holidays.

    Sole Parental Responsibility Case

    Robertson & Sento [2009] FamCAFC 49; (31 March 2009)

    The case of Robertson & Sento shows the necessity for adequate reasons to be given in a judgement on sole parental responsibility under the family law act.

    This 2009 case from Brisbane was an appeal made by the father, Mr Robertson, against orders made at an initial hearing in 2007 concerning the parenting of their child, who was born in 1998.

    The judge in the first hearing ordered that:

    • The child live with the mother, Ms Sento
    • The child spend time with the father for five nights a week every fortnight in a single block
    • The child spend each holiday time other than Christmas equally with both parents
    • The parents have joint parental responsibility in all areas except for health and music tuition, for which the mother would have sole parental responsibility

    Regarding the judgement on sole parental responsibility for healthcare, it was determined that were the mother and father to have equal shared parental responsibility for this issue, the child’s best interests would not be served due to the parents’ failure to reach an agreement.

    Similarly, for music tuition, the mother was granted sole parental responsibility to ensure that at least one of the child’s extra-curricular activities would not become the subject of dispute.

    To go further, however, and grant the mother sole parental responsibility for other extra-curricular activities would deny the father a role in developing interests and activities with the child that he can fully support.

    This shows how parental responsibility can be allocated in a variety of ways, and that a serious lack of ability to reach an agreement can also be a reason for granting sole parental responsibility.

    However, the appellate judge found the main issue to be in the use of the term “joint parental responsibility.”

    This does not exist in legislation.

    The Family Law Act 1975 uses the terms “parental responsibility” and “equal shared parental responsibility.”

    In not following legislation the trial judge created uncertainty about the outcome.

    The appellate judge also found that the primary judge did not adequately consider the child spending equal time or substantial and significant time with each parent, nor did they give proper consideration to determining what was in the child’s best interests.

    The appeal was allowed, and a rehearing was ordered.