How Family Law Defines A Meaningful Relationship Between Children And Both Their Divorced Parents

When family lawyers are dealing with legal matters that involve children, there is much within family law that they must refer to. A child being adopted, visitation rights for a divorcing parent, and taking a child from their abusive parents for their protection are but three possible reasons why a family lawyer might be involved, either to represent parents or in some matters, the child.

Some of these cases come up rarely and others are what you might consider normal for a family lawyer and a family law matter they possibly deal with each week. One of the more common ones where a family lawyer will most definitely be advising clients is during a divorce, and where that client has children, there will be parenting arrangements to resolve.

As current family law stands, there is a strong emphasis on the best interests of the children being served when any divorce order is settled. One specific element of that, and a term you will find within the Family Law Act, is “meaningful relationship”. This is where family law tries to balance the best interests of the child by promoting having a meaningful relationship with both parents, whilst at the same time protecting the child from psychological or physical harm.

Defining A Meaningful Relationship

Although the 1975 Family Law Act is the basis for how divorces and child arrangements are dealt with legally, the concept of parents sharing equal responsibility for their children, and that of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents, was first introduced by an amendment made to the Act in 2006. Given that meaningful relationships can be considered subjectively rather than objectively, it means that case law has often helped define what it is.

Terms such as “valuable”, “important”, “of consequence” and “significant” have all been used in cases to further define what a meaningful relationship is, but it still leaves some misunderstandings. Further explanations of how a meaningful relationship can be recognised and defined are set out below.

There Is No One Size Fits All Definition

Given that every child, each family, and the circumstances that will exist concerning each child’s relationship with each of their parents will all differ, it is understandable that Family Law does not have a precise definition that will apply to every case. Instead, each child’s well-being and best interests are assessed individually with all circumstances being considered.

Safety Supersedes All

Regardless of how beneficial a child having a meaningful relationship with one of their parents is regarded, it will always be the safety of the child that outweighs it to protect them from harm. As such, a Family Court would never use the desire for a child to have a meaningful relationship with a parent to compromise that child’s safety.

Quality vs Quantity

Although a child may spend the most time with one parent, such as living with their mother, a meaningful relationship is measured against the quality of the time that they spend with a parent not the amount of time. In other words, a few hours with their father, playing sports, hiking, visiting the beach, or going to the cinema, is considered every bit as valuable and desirable as them spending the rest of the week at home with their mother.

Looking To The Future, Not The Past

It is expected that a child’s relationship with each parent will change when their parents get divorced. As such, it might be that either or both parents did not have what would be considered a great or close relationship with their child before the divorce. However, assuming no abuse took place, that scenario is ignored when considering the way forward as the objective is geared towards having a meaningful relationship between child and parent in the future, regardless of the past.