Under the Family Law Act 1975, both parents automatically have rights and obligations to make major decisions affecting a child’s long-term care, welfare and development.  This is called ‘parental responsibility’.  

It deals with issues such as the child’s long-term education (such as decisions about school enrolment), and health (such as having a surgical procedure).

Both parents are obligated under the Act to consult with each other about these matters and to make decisions jointly.  This obligation does not need a court order, and the court is not necessarily involved in these matters unless specific orders are sought about parental responsibility or aspects of it. 

The court’s primary objective is to make parenting orders that are in the best interests of the children, despite the apparent conflict with the wishes or the interests of either of the parents or children.

The court can make a wide range of parenting orders, including orders about ‘parental responsibility’, or whom a child lives with, or what time they spend with a parent.

If a court makes a ‘live with’ or ‘time spent’ order, it does not affect other responsibilities that parents have in making decisions about children including medical, dental and educational matters.

On the other hand, if an order is made for a child to live with or spend time with a parent, that parent can make all day to day decisions concerning the child that are necessary for their care of the child, without needing to consult with the other parent (for example, decisions about the child’s bedtime, and food, or how they spend their day).  Also, the family law act provides that no one can interfere with a parent’s time with a child, or prevent the child from living with or spending time with that parent under the terms of a court order.