The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia.

1.1.L.33 Legal responsibility


This definition applies to all payments.


Legal responsibility is the right to have and to make decisions concerning the day-to-day care welfare and development of a child. Both parents are legally responsible for their child, except where:

  • they agree that one parent should have greater or sole responsibility, or
  • a court makes an order that changes their responsibility in a particular matter.

Example: Mr Brown and his ex-partner Ms Black have a court order which details the care arrangements of their children. The court order states that the children will have contact with their father on alternate weekends and half the school holidays as well as on Father's Day. The children are to have contact with their mother on Mother's Day. Legal responsibility for the children may be deemed to be joint as the court order does not specify otherwise.

Sole custody

When a person is granted sole custody of a child, then that person has the legal responsibility for the care, welfare and development of that child. The child is a dependent child (1.1.D.70) of that person, regardless of who has access to the child, if the child is in the person's care.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(2) Dependent child-under 16

Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.C.380 Custody order, court order containing custody order

FA Guide 1.1.P.17 Parental responsibility, 1.1.P.19 Parenting order, 1.1.P.20 Parenting plan, 1.1.P.21 Parenting plan (registered)

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