What Do We Mean by Substantial and Significant Time in Family Law?

In the Family Law Act 1975, it is presumed that when a couple with children separates, both parents will share equal parental responsibility. This might include making major long-term decisions such as what school the child goes to. However, this is not the same as an equal time arrangement. A Court will not necessarily grant a parent equal time with their child simply because they have granted shared parental responsibility. If the Court does not think it is appropriate for the child to spend equal time with both parents, then the Court will consider making an order for one parent to spend a ‘substantial and significant’ time with their children. But, what exactly does this mean and how does it differ to equal time?


What is a substantial and significant time?

Under section 65DAA(3) of the Family Law Act 1975, a child will be taken to spend substantial and significant time with a parent only if the time the child spends with the parent:

  • includes days that fall on weekends and holidays, and days that do not fall on weekends or holidays
  • allows the parent to be involved in the child’s daily routine and occasions and events that are of particular significance to the child
  • allows the child to be involved in occasions and events that are of significance to the parent.

For an order of substantial and significant time, it must be both in the best interest of the child and reasonably practicable.


Best Interests of the Child and Reasonably Practicable

To determine whether or not it is reasonably practicable for the child to spend substantial and significant time with each parent, the court must consider the following under section 65DAA(5) of the Family Law Act:

  • how far apart the parents live from each other
  • the parents’ current and future capacity to implement an arrangement for the child spending or substantial and significant time with each of the parents
  • the parents’ current and future capacity to communicate with each other and resolve any difficulties that might arise in implementing an arrangement
  • the impact that arrangement would have on the child
  • any other matters the Court might consider relevant

As for the ‘best interests of the child’, section 60CC of the Family Law Act outlines what the Court determines what is best for the child. Some factors include the need to protect the child from physical and psychological harm, abuse, neglect and family violence, and the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents.


What About Equal Time?

As the name suggests, equal time generally means the children are to spend 50% of their time with each parent. Many people assume that the Court will automatically grant equal 50/50 time, but this is not the case. Just like substantial and significant time, all of the factors listed regarding the best interests of the child and reasonably practicable apply to equal time spent with the child. Ultimately, the Court will make a decision based on what will work for the child.


Speak to a Family Lawyer About Substantial and Significant Time For Your Parenting Matter

At Emerson Family Lawyers, our team is experienced with matters concerning divorce and shared parenting, so if you are evaluating your parenting responsibility situation and whether equal time or substantial and significant time applies to your matter, contact us and let’s discuss your options.