Main Content Anchor

Legal words and phrases explained

Applicant — the person who asks the court to do something by lodging an application (in children’s matters, usually a parent). They start the case in court.

Child — a person under 18. An unborn child is not considered to be a child for the purpose of the Family Law Act.

Child’s best interests — any order involving children must be based on what is in the child’s best interests and may not necessarily be the parents’ wishes. All circumstances affecting the child are taken into account. (See sections 60CA and 60CC of the Family Law Act on pages 30 to 33 of this guide).

Communicating with — telephone/video calls, letters, emails, Skype etc — any ‘contact’ that is not face-to-face.

Consent orders — when you and the other parent agree about arrangements for your children, you can apply to the court for legal court orders to be made by agreement. These are called consent orders.

Equal shared parental responsibility — where parents equally share responsibility for making joint decisions about major long-term issues that affect their children, such as schooling and health. It is presumed to be in the child’s best interests for parents to have equal shared parental responsibility (except where there is family violence or child abuse).

Equal time — if parents have equal shared parental responsibility, then the court must consider the child spending equal time with each parent, if it is reasonably practicable and in the child’s best interests. This does not apply if there is evidence of family violence or child abuse (see also ‘substantial and significant time’).

Family counselling — a process to help people deal with issues about themselves and their children when parents separate or are arguing.

Family dispute resolution — a process to resolve disputes or disagreements (ie mediation) in family law matters to help people reach agreement about parenting arrangements. A family dispute resolution practitioner helps people to reach agreement in a non-threatening process involving discussion and negotiation.

Family dispute resolution practitioner — a person with professional training and approved by law, who provides dispute resolution services (mediation) to people who disagree about parenting arrangements and other family law issues.

Family relationship centre — centres set up and paid for by the government that provide counselling and dispute resolution services for people who don’t agree about relationship issues and parenting arrangements. Family relationship centres offer information and advice to families at all stages of their life, including people starting relationships, those wanting to make their relationships stronger, those having relationship difficulties and those affected when families separate.

Family violence — behaviour, either actual or threatened, towards a family member or their property that makes anyone in the family feel unsafe (although the fear or apprehension must be reasonable). Violence covers a broad range of controlling behaviours and includes physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial or social abuse. Examples include cutting off a person from seeing friends and relatives or controlling the person’s access to money. As well as affecting a person’s safety, it may mean a person cannot properly negotiate or participate in court matters.

Family violence order — an order for a set period of time (including a temporary or interim order) made under a state or territory law to protect a person from family violence. In Queensland these are called domestic violence orders.

Hearing — where evidence is considered from all people involved in the matter and a decision is made by a judge.

Live with — where and with whom the child lives. A child may live at more than one place, or may live with more than one parent. For example, a child may live with one parent for half of the week and the other parent for the other half. This used to be called ‘residence’ or ‘custody’.

Major long-term issues — issues that affect the child’s long-term care, welfare and development, including the child’s education, religious and cultural upbringing, health, name and changes to the child’s living arrangements that make it significantly more difficult for the child to spend time with a parent. A parent deciding to have a relationship with a new partner is not a major long-term issue in itself, but if this decision means relocating and significantly affecting time spent with the other parent, this is a major long-term issue.

Mediation — a way to settle arguments without going to court that involves an independent person helping parents or other carers to reach agreement (see ‘family dispute resolution’).

Order — an order is made by a court. It requires a person to do something. Orders may be final or interim (temporary until a further order is made). You must obey a court order.

Parent — a person who is legally the parent of a child either biologically, by adoption, by means of artificial conception procedures or by order of a court. In some cases the kinship obligations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture are considered.

Parenting orders — court orders setting out arrangements for children. Orders as to who the children will live with are usually made in favour of parents, but are available to other people significant in a child’s life, such as grandparents (see ‘consent orders’).

Parenting plan — a parenting plan is a voluntary written agreement, signed and dated by the people involved that deals with at least one sort of arrangement for the children.

Reasonably practical — before making the parenting order, the court must consider if the order about ‘equal time’ or ‘substantial and significant time’ is reasonably practical. Some matters the court must take into account are how far apart the parents live, the impact of the arrangements on the child and how the parents communicate with each other and the child.

Relative — a person directly related to the child, for example siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles. In some cases the kinship obligations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture are considered.

Respondent — a person against whom an application is brought to the court (in children’s matters, usually the other parent). They respond to the case started by the applicant.

Sealed orders — orders that have been approved by the court and have the court stamp (seal) on them, making them official court documents.

Spending time with — the time the child spends with the parent (or grandparents or other relatives) they don’t live with. This used to be called ‘contact’ or ‘access’.

Substantial and significant time — the amount of time a child spends with a parent they do not live with. It includes time spent during the day and overnight, weekends, time during the week, holidays, special occasions (eg birthdays, weddings). It also includes time allowing a parent to be involved in the child’s daily routine.

Last updated 23 June 2021

Back to top