In the complex landscape of family law, few issues are as emotionally charged as the care of children. It is common for parents to question what they are legally obliged to do and their decision-making rights about their children. For instance, parents often struggle with knowing whether they can stop someone from contacting or seeing their child. Sometimes this is about contact with the other parent, but at other times the contact is with another significant person, such as a grandparent. Unfortunately, in neither case does the law provide clearcut guidance, although there are principles that can help to determine the best course of action.

Contact with the Other Parent

In Australia, the law concerning the care of children is governed by the Family Law Act 1975 and exercised by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Family law prioritises the best interests of the child above all else.

Historically, when the care of a child has become a decision for the Court, it has favoured arrangements that allow for ongoing contact with both parents, even in cases of parental conflict or estrangement. This is not because parents have ‘rights’ in relation to their children, but rather because there has been a legal presumption that both parents have ‘equal shared parental responsibilities’ towards their children. Therefore, if both parents have equal decision making power about their child, it was presumed by the Court that neither parent should prevent contact between the child and the other parent.

However, this presumption was always rebuttable. There were circumstances in which the Court would limit or restrict contact between a parent and their child to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. These circumstances typically involved abuse, neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence, or other factors that posed a risk to the child’s physical or emotional health. Accordingly, outside of the courtroom parents were empowered to limit or restrict contact with the other parent if it endangered their child’s safety or well-being.

If the other parent believed that this power was being used inappropriately or punitively, they could seek legal intervention to establish contact. In such cases, the Court would carefully consider the evidence presented and make a decision based on the best interests of the child.

More recently, the Court is being guided by legislative changes to acknowledge, from the outset, that a child may not benefit from spending significant time with a parent. From May 2024 onwards, the Court will consider an amended set of factors when making decisions about parental contact.

These factors include what arrangements promote the safety of the child, the views expressed by the child, the needs of the child, and the capacity of each parent to meet those needs. In addition, the Court will consider the benefits to the child of having a meaningful relationship with their parents and other people who are significant to them.

Despite this changed emphasis, it is likely to remain uncommon for the Court to order that a child has no contact with one of their parents. This is because there is a significant body of research that shows that in most circumstances it is in the best interests of children to have a relationship with both parents. As such, parents outside the courtroom should consider withholding a child’s contact with the other parent to be a course of last resort and only taken when it is necessary in the interests of the child. Moreover, parents need to know that withholding a child from contact with another parent without valid justification can have serious consequences. The Court takes a dim view of parents who engage in ‘parental alienation’, which involves manipulating or coercing a child to reject the other parent.

Other Significant People

Ultimately, the goal of Australian family law is to promote the well-being of children. Within this broader mission, the Court not only considers contact between the child and their parents but also contact with other people who are significant to the child. For instance, if a child has developed a relationship with a grandparent, perhaps through regular visits, it may not be in their interests to have this relationship severed. Again, this is not because of any concept of ‘grandparent’s rights’, which is not a recognised legal principle in Australia. Rather, it is because the Court recognises that when someone is important to a child, it can be harmful for them to lose this person and that this should only happen if it is unavoidable. For instance, if a grandparent is abusive or alienating, then it would be reasonable to prevent them from having contact with the child, even if this goes against the child’s expressed wishes. However, it would not be sufficient for a parent to withhold access to their child simply because they wish to do so, or to punish the grandparent, in circumstances where the child has a positive and longstanding relationship with their grandparent.


At all times a parent must consider the best interests of their child when determining who can and cannot have contact with their child. As long as it is the child’s interests that are being prioritised, the parent may decide to prevent contact. If the other person has the necessary standing, they may challenge this decision before the Court, at which time consideration will be given to what is in the overall best interests of the child. This consideration will include the impact on the child if their parent is forced into contact which is not healthy, such as with a parent with whom they have a negative relationship.

This is general information only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances. If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 9221 5775 or email