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Children have the right to be safe, to be treated with affection, to be educated, to have medical care and to be protected against cruelty and abuse. Parents have the duty to protect their children’s rights until they are old enough to make their own way in the world.

The authority to make decisions concerning and affecting the care, welfare and proper development of the child is known as ‘parental responsibility’.

Family law in Australia defines the responsibilities that parents have in relation to bringing up their children. These include:

  • to protect your child from harm
  • to provide your child with food, clothing and a place to live
  • to financially support your child
  • to provide safety, supervision and control
  • to provide medical care
  • to provide an education.

Who has parental responsibility?

The Family Law Act states that birth parents, adoptive parents, those who become parents through artificial conception or surrogacy and those who satisfy presumptions of parentage are the only people to possess 'innate parental responsibility', which means they are legally authorised to exercise parental responsibility without a court order.

Although other adults, such as step-parents, may be involved in the care and support of a child, only these parents, or those recognised as parents by the court, have the ultimate authority for making decisions about a child.

Your obligations continue until your child has turned 18 and don’t end with divorce or separation. The government and the court encourage both parents to share in the exercise of their parental responsibility for a child, even in the case of separation.

Your rights as a parent

As a parent you also have rights.

The law allows parents to bring up their children according to their own values and beliefs. Decisions such as religion, education, discipline, medical treatment and where the child lives will not be interfered with unless there are good reasons or the child’s well-being is at risk - for example, if there is abuse, if the child is not receiving education or necessary medical treatments.

Working parents have the right to child-care services and to access information on payments and services for which they are eligible.

However, the concept of parents’ rights does not include the right to have custody or contact with your children, for example after separation. In situations where parental responsibility may be altered, the law requires the best interest of the child to be the paramount consideration.

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