5 Family Law Terms People Commonly Misuse

1. Guardianship

Prior to 2006, parents were awarded either “sole guardianship” or “joint guardianship” of their children. The law changed in 2006 and this term was abolished and became “parental responsibility”. Both terms relate to decisions about a child that are major long-term issues – such as education, religious and cultural upbringing, elective surgery and other significant health issues, children’s names and changes to a child’s living arrangements that make it significantly more difficult for a child to spend time with a parent (such as moving overseas with a child).

2. Custody

Again prior to 2006, a parent would be awarded custody of a child and this would not only determine where a child lived, but also what happened to the child on a day-to-day basis. In 2006 the laws changed to remove custody and replace it with “lives with”. This was seen to simply relate to the physical arrangements for the child.

3. Access

This was the term used for the time when the other parent would see the child. In 2006 this was also changed and now a person “spends time” with a child.

4. Divorce

Many people mistakenly use this term to describe the whole process of separating, finalising property settlements and children’s arrangements and ending the marriage. In Australia “divorce” refers only to the process of ending the marriage. Some people separate and sort out their assets and parenting arrangements without ever getting a divorce – but they still talk about when there were going through their divorce. It is more common now for everyone to understand that the process from separation until final orders is often referred to as a divorce.

5. Alimony

This is an American term which refers to money paid by one spouse to another for their day-to-day living expenses. I met an American guy who was 75 years old and he was still paying alimony for his first wife whom he divorced in 1978. He wasn’t too worried about it as it was in 1978 dollars (ie not very much). In Australia, there is the ability of one party to apply for support from the other by way of spousal maintenance. It is not automatic and it is unusual for it to continue for long periods of time.

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