How much overnight time should a child spend with the other parent?

It used to be the case that “expert opinion” was that children under three were considered to have a primary attachment with their primary carer (often the mother) and it was best for them to spend most of their time with the parent with whom they had the primary attachment.  The other parent was encouraged to have regular but frequent contact of a few hours once or twice a week.  Amendments to the Family Law Act in 2006 were enacted to promote the following objectives to guarantee that the best interests of children are met by:

  1. ensuring that children have the benefit of both of their parents having a meaningful involvement in their lives, to the maximum extent consistent with the best interests of the child; and
  2. protecting children from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence; and
  3. ensuring that children receive adequate and proper parenting to help them achieve their full potential; and
  4. ensuring that parents fulfil their duties, and meet their responsibilities, concerning the care, welfare and development of their children.

The Family Law Act goes into further detail and prescribes principles to be applied in achieving those objectives (except when it is or would be contrary to a child's best interests):

  1. children have the right to know and be cared for by both their parents, regardless of whether their parents are married, separated, have never married or have never lived together; and
  2. children have a right to spend time on a regular basis with, and communicate on a regular basis with, both their parents and other people significant to their care, welfare and development (such as grandparents and other relatives); and
  3. parents jointly share duties and responsibilities concerning the care, welfare and development of their children; and
  4. parents should agree about the future parenting of their children; and
  5. children have a right to enjoy their culture (including the right to enjoy that culture with other people who share that culture).

As a result of the Family Law Act changes, there has been a steady, but slow, transition to the “new order” which sees both separated parents more involved with their children.

See Part two The Question: How much overnight time should a child spend with the other parent?

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