Child Custody Lawyers Sydney

Get in touch: 1800 770 780

How can we help?

  1. Understanding child custody laws in Australia
  2. Can we make a custody agreement without going to court?
  3. What are parenting orders?
  4. How to apply to the court for a parenting order
  5. How does the court make a decision about family custody?
  6. Owen Hodge’s child custody lawyers have decades of legal experience

A marriage separation or de facto relationship breakdown is a very stressful and emotional experience for the adults involved, but it’s also a very difficult time for the children of the relationship.

To ensure a sense of security and stability for them, it’s important to prioritise the needs of the children. Our child custody lawyers have years of experience in child custody matters and are here to help you every step of the way.

Understanding child custody laws in Australia

Child custody laws in Australia are governed by the Family Law Act 1975 which acts as a framework for Child Custody Laws in Australia. Section 60CA of the Family Law Act 1975 explicitly states that the child’s best interests must be paramount in making a parenting order. This reflects Australia’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The court’s role is to step in to make decisions if parents can’t agree on custody arrangements. These decisions are based on a variety of factors, with the child’s safety and welfare being the top priority. For parents who can agree independently, legal avenues like consent orders can formalise the arrangement without having to go to court.

Which court hears child custody cases?

Most family law matters, such as divorce, are dealt with by the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The New South Wales Local Court has limited jurisdiction to hear some family law applications such as property settlements.

Can we make a custody agreement without going to court?

If you and the other parent are able to reach an agreement about what arrangements will be in place for your children without going to court, then this is the best outcome for everyone involved as it will save considerable time, stress, and money.

A child custody lawyer can prepare the documents you can sign to make your agreement final and binding. These documents are called an Application for Consent Orders and Consent Orders. Once these documents are signed by you and the other parent (and they are approved by the court), they have the same force and effect as if they were made by a judge following court proceedings.

What if we can’t reach an agreement outside of court?

Unfortunately, and often despite the best intentions of the parents, it is not always possible to reach an agreement and create a successful parenting plan without the assistance of the court. In such situations, the court has the power to deal with all issues relating to child custody, including where the children live and what time they spend with each parent.

What are parenting orders?

A parenting order (also known as a consent order) refers to the orders made by a court about the parenting arrangements for your children.

Learn more: Difference between parenting plans and consent orders

Who can apply for parenting orders?

Either of the parents can make an application, regardless of whether they are married or in a de facto or same sex relationship. It is also possible for grandparents or any other person concerned with the care or welfare of the child to make an application for parenting orders.

How to apply to the court for a parenting order

Before you make an application to the court, you and the other parent will need to engage in mediation with an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner. Until a parent attends mediation and obtains a section 60I certificate, they will be unable to file an application with the court seeking parenting orders.

However, there are some exceptions to this in circumstances of urgency or if there is family violence or abuse. It is also possible to obtain a s60I certificate if the other parent refuses to participate in the mediation.

When you file an application with the court, you can ask the court to make ‘interim and final parenting orders’ or just ‘final parenting orders’.

Applying for an interim order

Interim orders refer to temporary orders that are in place until the court makes a final decision about what arrangements should be in place for your children, or until you and the other party reach a final agreement.

Some examples of when you might choose to apply to the court for interim orders are as follows;

  • The other party will not allow you to spend any time with the children; or
  • The other party will not allow you to spend adequate time with the children.

Generally, interim orders are sought when there is an urgent issue in your matter that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

How to obtain an interim order

An interim hearing will usually take place within one to three months of an application being made to the court. At an interim hearing, the judge will read written statements (Affidavits) that both parties have submitted to the court. Then the judge will listen to arguments (submissions) from the legal representatives or the parties themselves if they do not have a child custody lawyer.

After considering the Affidavits and the submissions, the judge will then make a decision about what temporary orders should be in place.

Applying for final orders

The final hearing usually happens within a year of a party making an application to the court.

At a final hearing, any person who has provided an Affidavit to the court will usually give sworn oral evidence in court, and each of these people will usually be cross-examined about what they have said in their Affidavit.

The judge will also consider a report that is prepared by a court appointed counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist who has met with the parties before the final hearing. This expert is usually also cross examined in court.

At the end of the final hearing, the judge will also hear oral submissions from each party’s legal representative or from the parties themselves if they don’t have a legal representative.

Following a final hearing, the judge will make final orders about what arrangements will be in place for the children until they are 18 years old.

How does the court decide family custody?

When deciding what parenting orders to make, the court applies the principles in the Family Law Act 1975, and an overview of these principles are as follows:

Equal shared parental responsibility

There is a presumption at law that after separation, both parents have “equal shared parental responsibility” for their children. This means that both parents have equal input into decisions that affect the long term care, welfare and development of the child.

It also means the court must consider the children spending equal time with each parent or an arrangement where the children spend significant and substantial time with each parent. Keep in mind, the court’s primary focus is ensuring that the arrangement is not only in the best interests of the children, but that it is practical.

In matters that involve violence, abuse, neglect, or if one parent is incapable of parenting a child, this presumption that the parents have equal shared parental responsibility can be rejected.

Learn more: Fathers’ rights

How do you prove the best interest of the child?

Section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975 sets out what factors the family court is bound to consider when deciding what arrangements are in the best interests of the child. There is a two–tiered system, including “primary” and “additional” considerations. 

Learn more: Parenting arrangements for special occasions

Primary considerations

  • The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents
  • The need to protect the child from physical and psychological harm

Additional considerations*

  • Any views expressed by the child
  • The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent and any other persons (including grandparents or other relatives of the child)
  • The extent to which each parent has taken or failed to take the opportunity to spend time with the child, communicate with the child or participate in making major long term decisions about the child
  • The extent to which each of the child’s parents have fulfilled, or failed to fulfil, the parent’s obligations to maintain the child
  • The capacity of each parent to provide for the child’s needs (both intellectually and emotionally)

*this is not an exhaustive list of the additional considerations

Ultimately, it is a matter for the court to weigh up all of these considerations in determining what arrangement is in the best interests of the child, and it will vary on a case by case basis. We suggest engaging a child or divorce lawyer early on so you can understand your rights.

Owen Hodge’s child custody lawyers Sydney have decades of legal experience and dealing with the complexities of child custody matters.

 We specialise in assisting parents to achieve the best possible outcome for themselves and their children.



Owen Hodge is here to help

Need help with a child custody matter or want to understand your legal rights and obligations? Get in touch today.


Family Law Team

Kristy-Lee Burns

Partner, Family and Commercial Lawyer

Jillian Zhang

Family and Estates Lawyer

Here’s what our clients are saying

Dear Kristy-Lee

My divorce has gone through without a hitch. Thank you for all your help and advice through this process.

Mr. F

Helpful and Supportive

During my divorce proceedings I was in a position I had never experienced previously and was not sure what direction to take.

Kristy Lee advised me in a way that was easy to understand but also firm & direct which to my surprise led to a favorable outcome and put an end to any future hardship I could have gone through.

Mr F

I won my case at the Guardianship Tribunal

“I won my case at the Guardianship Tribunal yesterday.. After discussions with my mother, we agreed that it would be in my aunt’s best interest to have the Public Guardian take over as I just cannot manage her doctor’s appointments, support care arrangements, dental, optical appointments etc from so far away… I did however retain my Enduring Power of Attorney position, and it was upgraded to being my aunt’s Private Manager…

Lisa Terrill

Many Thanks

Many thanks to Christine Vrahas, Alice Holman, and James Kelly for all the time and support that was given leading up to the settlement of my Aunts estate.

D. Rae

Thank Debbie and James

Just a quick note to thank Debbie and James for the great work you did for Dad in the sale of his Greglea unit. You made the sale for me very easy to deal with and I appreciate the effort you put into it.

Margaret Crawford

Thank you Family Law Team

Thank you for your time, effort and honesty in assisting me with my case this year.

Mr. G

Thank you for making a difficult time easier for us

On behalf of the family I would like to thank you for the professionalism that you have shown in your handling of our mother’s estate. We appreciate it very much. It was a hard and sad time, but your kindness made it so much easier for us.

Ms M

Thank you Kristy-Lee Burns

I would highly recommend Kristy-Lee to my family and friends for family law matters that they have……


Thank you Owen Hodge Lawyers Hurstville

I would like to send a big thank you to the team at Owen Hodge Lawyer Hurstville for their collective effort to resolve my late Wife’s estate dispute and all before Christmas.


Thank you, Kristy-Lee

I was always informed and reassured that the outcome of my case would be best for myself but most importantly moving forward with my children and my life.

Kristy-Lee has extensive experience and knowledge in regards to family law and her beautiful nature and considerate approach is what I will be forever thankful for.

Ms F

Frequently asked questions

  • Legal custody: determines who is responsible for legal decisions – can be sole or joint.
  • Sole custody: the court decides only one parent has legal custody.
  • Joint custody: parents agree on a parenting plan or the court rules for shared custody.

The cost of lawyers for child custody issues varies on a case by case basis. It also depends on whether the parents can come to an agreement or if the matter is particularly complicated.

Without a court order for child custody, a mother cannot legally keep the child away from the father. However, this can also depend on whether there is abuse, neglect or violence involved. We highly recommend speaking to a child custody lawyer in Sydney if you find yourself in such a situation.