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I want to change the living arrangement that is in place...


 

If your parents are already split up or divorced, there might be an order or arrangement that was made a long time ago about where you should live and who looks after you. This might have been something your parents decided together, or something the court ordered because your parents couldn’t agree.  

As you get older, or things change, you may not be happy with the living arrangement and want to change it.  Changing the arrangement depends on how the original decision was made.

If you can, it is a good idea to explain to your parents why you would like to change the arrangement.  You may like to ask a family member or older friend to help you talk with your parents. If you need some more help trying to work things out with your parents, you can ask them to go to a family counselling session with you. There are services around Australia that help young people and their families deal with disputes about things like living and parenting arrangements.

You can find a local counselling service that deals with family relationships near you by contacting the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321.  They are available between 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturdays (except national public holidays).

Changing the arrangement where there are no court orders in place

If there are no court orders about your living arrangements, you can change the situation if your parents agree.  Your parents don’t need to ask a lawyer or the court to do this – they can just agree together to change it.

One way of writing down the new agreement is to make a "Parenting Plan."  This is a written agreement your parents can make without going to court.   Your parents don’t have to have a parenting plan, but sometimes it is easier to have it written down.

If your parents agree to a change but want it to be a legal agreement, they can apply to the court to make “consent orders”.   This is where your parents write down the new arrangement and hand it to the court. After the court has checked that it is in your best interests, the arrangement becomes legal, like any other court order.  You and your parents won’t have to go through a court trial to make these orders.    

If one of your parents does not agree to a change, your other parent can ask the court to decide what living arrangements are best for you.  


Changing the arrangement where court orders are already in place


If there are already court orders in place, your parents have to follow those orders.

However, if the court orders were made after the 1st of July 2006 your parents can change the orders at any time by making their own parenting plan, as long as they both agree to the plan.  This means they don’t have to go back to court.

If your parents don’t agree on a parenting plan, then in some special cases it is possible for them to ask the court to change the orders in place. 

The court might change the orders if your situation has changed in an important way or changed quite a lot since the time the original order was made. If the court wants to change the orders, or make new ones, you might be asked for your opinion about the changes. 

Applying to change parenting orders can be complicated - especially when you don't have a parent's support to do so. The court may require you and your family to go to mediation (a type of counselling) before you can apply. If mediation doesn't work out, you would need a lawyer to represent you in court.

If you are a child and would like more information about changing parenting orders, you can contact the Legal Aid Office in your state and territory at http://www.nationallegalaid.org/.

We can only provide information and advice to children.  We cannot provide advice to parents who are asking for advice about family law matters.




Case Study: Ben wants to change the living arrangement in place…

Question: Hi, my name is Ben. I’m 13 years old. I live half the week with my mum and the other half with my dad but I want to live with my mum all the time. How old do I have to be to choose where I live?

Answer: Hi Ben, generally, your parents (and in some cases, the court) are responsible for choosing where you live until you turn 18. 

The easiest way to change your living situation is to get both of your parents to agree on the change.  We encourage you to sit down and talk with both your parents about how you’re feeling. You, your mum and your dad might be able to come up with a new living plan that you’re all happy with. 

If your parents can't agree, then you may be able to apply to the court to make or change a parenting order.

At what age can you choose where to live?

Once you turn 18, the law considers you to be an adult. Until then, your parents (and in some cases, the court) are generally responsible for looking after you and deciding where you live.

While you don't have a legal right to choose where you live at age 13 or 14, you should get a say in where you live and spend your time at any age. As you grow older and more mature, you should have a greater say in the final decision.

If your parents can’t agree and your family needs help from the court to decide where you will live and spend your time, the court may ask for your views and will consider your wishes.  However, the court's final decision will be based on what they believe is in your best interests.

Talk to your parents

We encourage you to sit down and talk with your parents about how you’re feeling. If you don't feel you can talk to your parents about it alone, you could ask another family member or friend to come with you for support. Coming up with a compromise is the best way to try and resolve these kinds of situations.

These fact sheets about talking to parents might help:
- http://www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-info/hot-topics/talking-with-your-parents.php
- http://www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-info/hot-topics/communication-skills.php

Come to an agreement

The easiest way to change your living arrangement is to see if you, your mum, and your dad can come to an agreement that you’re all happy with. The law says that your parents are free to change your living arrangements if they both agree to it.  If your parents meet to talk about the possibility of you spending more of your time at your mum’s, you can ask to be involved in the discussion to let them know how you're feeling.

If your family is having trouble agreeing, you could ask your parents to go to family counselling to work things out in a supportive environment.


Get help from a family counselling service

If you need some help with talking to your parents and reaching an agreement, you can ask them to try family counselling or mediation. There are services throughout Australia that help young people and their families deal with disputes about things like living and parenting arrangements.

You can find a local counselling service that deals with family relationships near you by contacting the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321.  They are available between 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturdays (except national public holidays).


Apply to the court to make or change a parenting order


If your parents can't agree about changing your living arrangements, you could apply to the court to make or change a parenting order. 

A parenting order is made by the court and sets out things like where you live and how much time you spend with each parent.

If there's already a parenting order from the court, then your mum and dad have to follow it unless (1) they both agree to change it  or
(2) the court decides to change it.

The court will only change an order if your situation is very different now compared to when the order was made, and it's in your best interests to change it. In most cases though, the court will consider it to be in your best interest for you to spend equal amounts of time with both parents. 

If the court has not made this kind of order, then you can apply to the court and ask them to order that you should live mainly with your mum. Before you can apply, you usually have to fill out some forms, pay a fee and provide a certificate from a family counselling service to show that you've tried to work things out on your own. Once that's done, there will be meetings with family workers to try to figure out what's best for you. The court will consider lots of different things (like your views, your safety, and your relationship with your mum, dad and other family members, etc) and then make orders based on what they believe is in your best interests.

Applying to change parenting orders can be complicated, so it's best for you to get legal advice before doing this. Below, we've included contact details for free legal services that can help with this.


Get some legal advice about changing or applying for a parenting order


If your parents can't agree, you can get some free legal advice about court processes for changing or applying for parenting orders.

You or your parents can do this by contacting your state’s Legal Aid Commission by clicking on your state at this link: http://www.nationallegalaid.org/.  You can also call your state’s information line to get some free advice.


You can also visit this webpage to find out more about changing existing parenting orders:
http://www.familylawcourts.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/FLC/Home/Children%27s+Matters/Applying+to+change+an+existing+order/

Talk to someone


If you feel like you can't talk to your parents, you can talk to a youth counsellor on your own. They can help you with how you're feeling and give you some advice. Kids Helpline is a free and private counselling service for 5-25 year olds and they give advice on a whole range of things including families and relationships. You can call them on 1800 55 1800 (at any time day or night, but you might have to wait to speak to someone) or chat to them online at: www.kidshelp.com.au/teens.

END OF CASE STUDY


 

Where Can I Find More Information?


The Court has information on family law written for kids. http://www.familylawcourts.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/FLC/Home/Children%27s+Matters/Information+for+Children/
You can also try the following websites:

•    ChatFirst has heaps of information for kids about family separation: http://www.chatfirst.com.au/teens/index.php
•    Reach Out can give you advice on family relationships: http://au.reachout.com/

   

We cannot give advice to parents who have questions about family or divorce law.  

Page last updated on 25 June 2015