Given the remote location of many Australian mines, including offshore oil and gas wells, Fly-In-Fly-Out (“FIFO”) employment is commonplace within the mining industry.
There can be no question that FIFO employment impacts upon family relationships differently to more traditional employment. The effect of the FIFO lifestyle upon the mental health and wellbeing of the workers and their families can be considerable.
In addition to the physical distance between the FIFO worker and their family, couples may feel emotionally isolated from one another and resentful of the responsibilities each feel they must undertake to sustain their family unit – physically, emotionally and financially.
The FIFO lifestyle can place a tremendous strain on families, with some relationships ending when these challenges become too much.
FIFO Parenting – Post Separation Challenges
The post separation landscape for each FIFO family is unique. Care arrangements for the children of a FIFO relationship that has broken down can have added complexity and require special consideration.
The FIFO parent may feel concerned that they will not have the opportunity to spend meaningful and significant time with their children – due to their work commitments and perhaps lack of support from the other parent.
Conversely, the stay-at-home parent may feel that they have been effectively operating as a single mother or father for some time and therefore have become quite autonomous in their parenting, out of necessity.
Financial issues of child support and ongoing family expenses may also cause considerable tension between separated parents.
Parenting Arrangements for Separated FIFO Families
Following separation, there are many options for parents to reach an agreement about arrangements for their children, including their financial support. If parents are able to maintain a positive co-parenting relationship and respectful communication, it may not be necessary to formalise parenting arrangements.
However, where the relationship breakdown between parents has resulted in strained, or in some circumstances, no communication or consultation, other pathways may become necessary to secure parenting arrangements.
Options to Formalise Parenting Arrangements
Where there is a dispute about parenting arrangements, participating in mediation (Family Dispute Resolution) can assist parents to reach an agreement about their children’s care. If an agreement can be reached through this process, the parents may choose to formalise their agreement into a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is a written record of an agreement between the parents about the care of their children that is signed and dated. Parents may agree to review their Parenting Plan periodically, as their circumstances evolve over time. Parenting Plans, however, are not legally enforceable.
Alternatively, parents may seek to formalise their parenting agreement by filing an Application for Consent Orders with the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“Court”). Parties are generally not required to attend Court for the hearing of this application. Provided the Court is satisfied that the orders proposed by the parties are in the best interests of the children, the Court will likely make orders in the terms proposed. Consent Orders are binding upon the parties and are enforceable.
If, notwithstanding negotiation and/or mediation, a parenting agreement cannot be reached, either parent may apply individually to the Court for parenting orders. Once filed, the Application is served upon the other parent, who is required to formally respond. If the parenting dispute does not resolve and a final hearing is ultimately required, a Judge will decide what final orders are made with respect to the children’s care. Orders of the Court are binding upon each party and are enforceable.
Unless exceptional circumstances of urgency or risk arise, litigation of parenting matters should always be considered a last resort and not entered into without first obtaining independent legal advice.
Whichever pathway you require to resolve your parenting dispute, the following considerations are of particular relevance to separated FIFO families:
- What is the FIFO worker’s roster? Is it regular and secure (for example, week-on-week-off) or irregular / subject to change / requires long periods away from home?
- When is the FIFO worker rostered off / available to have the children in their care?
- Is the FIFO worker’s home close to their children? When at home, can they facilitate each child’s attendance at school / other commitments?
- How old is each child?
- Does the child have special needs?
If you have experienced relationship breakdown, and the FIFO lifestyle is a factor for you, we invite you to contact our Family Law Accredited Specialist, Ruth Jeffers, for an initial consultation. Ruth is available to meet with you in person at our Southport office, or speak with you remotely. Our Family Law team can assist with all aspects of your parenting matters, whatever your location.