Schools should ensure that when enrolling a child they request and obtain copies of any court order affecting the child, including parenting plans.
The Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 applies to all children in Victoria, with the exception of children who are formally under the care of the Secretary to the Department of Human Services pursuant to the provisions of the Child Youth and Families Act 2005.
Section 61C of the Family Law Act 1975 provides that each of the parents of a child under 18 has parental responsibility for the child, which means “all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to children” unless that parental responsibility is displaced by a court order.
Parental responsibility can be exercised by each parent, independently of the other.
The allocation of parental responsibility is only altered by court orders. In the absence of specific court orders, each parent is entitled to:
- know where their child is enrolled
- participate in school related activities
- be provided with school communications such as reports and newsletters.
Where a court order prohibits contact with a person, it will be explicitly stated in the order. An order that a child spend time with one parent does not give the right to that parent to prohibit contact between the child and the other parent outside of times specified in the order.
Orders under the Family Law Act 1975 can be made in either the Family Court or in the Federal Magistrate’s Court.
These Orders are called “Parenting Orders”. The Court may make orders dealing with any aspect of the care, welfare and development of a child. However, parenting orders generally fall into four categories:
- with whom the child is to live (residence order)
- contact between the child and other persons (contact order)
- maintenance of a child (child maintenance order);
- any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child (specific issues order). For example, if the parents cannot agree between themselves which school the child should attend, the court may make a specific issues order on this point.
Parents can also come to an agreement between themselves in a “parenting plan” which once filed with the Court has the same force as an Order. Fewer issues arise for schools in relation to children who are subject to parenting plans, as in those cases the parents have been able to come to an agreement between themselves.