Child Custody Schedules by Age Australia

Posted on December 22, 2023 by Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth is a passionate family lawyer based in Sydney. During Sophie’s time in family law, she has been able to gain valuable skills in drafting documents for Court, connecting with clients, and conducting legal research for matters before the Federal Circuit Court, Family Court and Supreme Court of New South Wales. This experience has allowed Sophie to create close relationships with clients, understanding that every family law issue is complex and presents a unique set of circumstances.

Key Takeaways

  • Child custody arrangements in Australia should be tailored to the child’s individual needs and consider factors such as school hours, parents’ work schedules, travel time between homes.
  • The Court always puts the child’s rights and best interests first when determining custody arrangements, taking into account their preferences, and ensuring that they meet emotional, physical & psychological needs.
  • Unified Lawyers offer expert legal advice & representation to assist families with navigating these complex family matters.

Working out the intricacies of child custody arrangements can be an overwhelming task, especially when you are navigating the emotional turmoil of a separation.

Child custody arrangements can be created in many different ways and be tailored to suit your unique circumstances, which allows for flexibility, but can also make it a little more overwhelming.

To make it easier for you, we’ve put together some information about a way that you can create a child custody arrangement – by structuring it according to your child’s age and developmental needs.

This consideration, though seemingly minute, can make a significant difference in your child’s overall well-being and adjustment to the new family dynamics. Child custody schedules by age Australia is an important aspect to consider in these situations.

Keep reading to learn more about child custody schedules from our child custody lawyers Sydney.

Most common child custody arrangements

Child custody arrangements, also known as parenting arrangements, encompass various plans devised by parents or the Court for childcare post-separation.

It’s important to note that throughout this article, we use the term child custody, however, this is more of a colloquial term and is no longer used in the legal space. The legal terminology includes parental responsibility, living with, and spending time with. We’ll try to strike a balance between the colloquial terms and the legal terms throughout this article.


The most frequent child custody agreements include:

  • Sole custody
  • Joint custody
  • Full custody
  • Split custody
  • Legal custody

Below, we’ve explained these in a little more detail and tried to incorporate the legal terms relevant to each arrangement.

Sole custody

This type of arrangement often refers to when one parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make significant decisions about the child – this is known as sole parental responsibility. This also usually means that the child lives with this parent, so one parent has both physical and legal custody of the child/ren, though the other parent is likely to have visitation rights.

Joint custody

In this arrangement, both parents share physical and legal custody of the child, so the child spends time and lives with each parent. The parents also have what is shared parental responsibility, so they share the responsibility for making decisions about major long-term issues concerning the child.

Full custody

This arrangement can be interpreted a few ways, though it often implies that one parent has sole parental responsibility, and the child lives with one parent. In some situations, the other parent may be able to spend time with the child, however, that parent is unlikely to have any involvement when it comes decision making regarding the child.

Split custody

This is a less common type of arrangement where each parent has full custody of one or more of the children, so one parent has custody of one child, while the other may have custody of another.

Legal custody

This type of arrangement is more in line with parental responsibility and is usually a part of the other custody types we’ve mentioned. It is the rights and duties parents have towards their children to make decisions about education, health, and religious upbringing. This can be awarded to one parent, or it can be shared. In the Australian family law system, unless there is an order stating otherwise, parents automatically share parental responsibility.

As you can see, there are many different ways that parenting arrangements can exist, so if you need help to understand your options, you can always discuss your situation with our child custody lawyers here at Unified Lawyers.

Child custody schedules by age Australia

Despite the intimidating legal jargon, remember that the core principle of all child custody arrangements is the child’s best interests. The aim of age-appropriate custody schedules is to cater to the child’s evolving developmental needs and ensure their overall well-being.

Keep in mind that child custody schedules by age don’t follow rigid rules. What works for one child may not necessarily work for another. The most suitable custody arrangements usually involve the child spending time with both parents, with the duration and frequency contingent on the specific needs of the child.


Factors to consider when devising custody schedules include:

  • School hours
  • Parents’ work schedules
  • Travel time between homes
  • School holidays

The goal is to ensure minimal disruption to the child’s routine and create an environment where they feel safe, loved, and cared for.

0-4 years age group

When it comes to children aged 0-4, secure attachment and consistency are key. Secure attachments in early childhood have many developmental benefits. These include better emotional regulation, increased self-esteem and improved social relationships.

The recommendation for this age group is that the child stays predominantly with the primary caregiver, supplemented by regular, brief visits from the non-residential parent. This arrangement not only fosters a sense of security but also ensures that the child’s routine remains consistent, which is crucial for their overall development.

School age children: 5 – 11

The world of a child significantly expands as they enter school age. They begin to form relationships outside the family, and their schedules become more structured. At this stage, custody arrangements become more flexible, accommodating both the needs of the children and parents.

The most common arrangement for school-age children in Australia is joint custody or shared care. This arrangement promotes equal shared parental responsibility and allows the child to spend significant time with both parents.

Another common arrangement is substantial and significant time, where the child resides with one parent and spends regular and meaningful time with the other. These arrangements not only ensure that the child maintains a meaningful relationship with both parents but also take into consideration the child’s school schedule, extra-curricular activities, and holidays.

Preteens and teenage children: 12 – 17

As younger children transition into their preteens and teenage years, they desire more independence, and their schedules fill up with schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. This age group’s custody arrangements should thus be more adaptable and consider their preferences and commitments.

Common custody arrangements for teenagers in Australia include shared custody, weekends and holidays, and primary custody with visitation. These arrangements are designed to prioritise the teenager’s best interests and maintain a healthy and stable relationship with both parents. It is important to remember that while teenagers may have more say in their living arrangements, the final decision always prioritises their best interests.

Child custody laws

Australian child custody laws are crafted with the child’s best interest in mind. The Family Law Act 1975 emphasises that all arrangements must prioritise the child’s welfare. As we mentioned earlier, in contrast to traditional concepts of ‘custody,’ the Australian legal system focuses on ‘parental responsibility,’ using terms like ‘lives with’ and ‘spends time with’ when discussing the time, a child spends with each parent.

The best interest’s principle takes a variety of factors into consideration, however, there are two primary considerations, and these are that the child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, and that they child has the right to be protected from harm of any kind. The latter of these considerations trumps the first.

It’s important to also note that the Australian family law system very carefully highlights that children have rights, while parents have responsibilities and duties, so every decision regarding a child should be made to ensure their rights are protected.


Child’s rights in custody

As we mentioned above, in all child custody arrangements (and any matters affecting a child), the rights of the child take precedence. The Court always considers the child’s best interests when deciding on custody arrangements and when parents make decisions about their child outside of a Court, they too need to consider their best interests.

While the child’s best interests must be considered, it’s important to note that these are different to a child’s preferences. A child’s preferences are considered in custody decisions, although they do not have the legal capacity to make these decisions themselves. The weight given to a child’s preferences may vary depending on their age and maturity level. However, it’s important to remember that the court’s primary concern is always the child’s best interests, regardless of their preferences.

This focus on the child’s rights ensures that the custody arrangements serve the child’s emotional, physical, and psychological needs, allowing them to thrive despite the changes in their family structure.

What age can a child choose where to live

There is no legal age that a child can choose where to live, and the law doesn’t specify an age when a child’s preferences start to influence custody arrangements. The Court takes into account the child’s views depending on their age and level of maturity; however, the child does not make the final decision.

It’s crucial to remember that the Court’s primary concern is always ensuring the proposed arrangements are in the best interest of the child, where the child is safe and able to have relationships with parents where appropriate.


Age limit for child custody

Australia doesn’t have a defined age limit for child custody. Instead, custody arrangements are designed to evolve with the child’s changing needs and maturity levels. This flexibility ensures that the child’s emotional, physical, and psychological needs are met at every stage of their development.

As children grow older, their needs and preferences change, and their custody arrangements need to reflect these changes. This might involve adjusting the frequency and duration of visits, considering the child’s school and extra-curricular commitments, and even taking into account the child’s wishes.

Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that the custody arrangements serve the child’s best interests throughout their childhood and adolescence. Whether this involves staying with one parent and visiting the other or splitting time equally between both parents will depend on the individual circumstances of each family.

How can we help?

At Unified Lawyers, we have been helping parents all over Australia to create parenting arrangements and custody schedules that suit their unique situation.

We understand how emotionally stressful these situations can be and it’s our goal to make the process easier for you and find the right outcome for your child.

If you need help with any parenting matters, including child custody schedules, get in touch with our family lawyers Sydney today.

We are available to help people Australia-wide and we offer a full service of family law services, including parenting, property settlements and divorce lawyers Sydney.

Call us on 1300 667 461 or book a free, no obligation consultation using the button below.

Sophie Booth Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth is a passionate family lawyer based in Sydney. During Sophie’s time in family law, she has been able to gain valuable skills in drafting documents for Court, connecting with clients, and conducting legal research for matters before the Federal Circuit Court, Family Court and Supreme Court of New South Wales. This experience has allowed Sophie to create close relationships with clients, understanding that every family law issue is complex and presents a unique set of circumstances.

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