What are the mother vs father custody statistics in Australia?

In family law, we see the effects of separation every day. It is more than a legal issue; it is a symptom of a complex interpersonal scenario unfolding in our client’s lives. It can mean heartbreak, conflict, or liberation, but it always means a fundamental change for parents and children alike.

By Michael Sheahan, Legal Administration Assistant at Australian Family Lawyers, Brisbane.

In the aftermath of the separation, life can be a maelstrom of complex emotions and potential areas for disagreement, and within this deluge, parents must navigate what is the best care arrangement for their children. It is encouraging to see complicated family issues resolved with both parents maintaining a meaningful relationship with their children.

Perhaps you are a father, and until recently you were a husband. You are still processing your separation, and yet legal conflict is looming. You and your former partner must come to some agreement as to the care of your children, or else decide the matter through the family law system. Some fathers are disheartened by the misconception that Dads can’t end up with the kids, that it is all an expensive uphill slog with little chance for success.

This isn’t the case. In this article, we’ll break down some myths that surround mother vs father custody statistics in Australia, dive deep into the data and explain the reasons behind the numbers.

Parenting Orders are to serve the best interests of the child.

What are the custody laws? 

Firstly, in Australia, we don’t use the term “custody.” It is a term we are exposed to through American movies and TV. in Australia we are concerned with residence or time spent with the kids, and parental responsibility.

Time spent with the child is the arrangement for when the child gets to see/be in the care of each parent. This can look like a ‘week on week off’ arrangement, where the child spends alternate weeks with each parent. It can be one parent having the kids for school holidays and calling the kids in between these times. There are almost an infinitive number of permutations for care arrangements, and they are limited only by creativity and the need to do what is in the best interest of the child.

Parental Responsibility refers to parents’ ability to make long-term decisions for the child’s best interests. Typically, while children are in a parent’s care you are free to make decisions as to their day-to-day care. You are required to communicate and come to an agreement with a co-parent as to major issues, such as what school to place the children in, the children’s religious upbringing, and medical issues. If the court grants one parent sole parental responsibility, then they can make these decisions without needing to consult the other parent.


Mother vs Fathers custody statistics in Australia

Parenting arrangement Time/care percentages split Percentage 
Where the mother has sole parental responsibility
Total: 27%
Mother sole responsibility, Father never sees 9%
Mother sole responsibility, Father sees daytime only 18%
Where the mother is granted the majority of time
Where the mother spends 87–99% of time with the child, and the father spend 1–13% of time. 12%
Where the mother spends between 66–86% of time with the child, and the father spends between 14–34% 34%
Where there is a shared care/time arrangement
Total: 21%
Where the mother spends between 53–65% of time with the child, and the father spends between 35–47% 10%
Equal time between parents 48–52% 9%
Mother 35–47%, Father 53–65% 2%
Where the father is granted the majority of time
Total: 3%
Mother 14–34%, Father 66–86% 2%
Mother 1–13%, Father 87–99% 1%
Where the father has sole parental responsibility
Total: 2%
Mother never sees, Father sole responsibility 1%
Mother sees daytime only, Father sole responsibility 1%


The above statistics come from the Australian Institute of Family Studies Survey of Separated Parents 2014. While there have been several key legislative changes since 2014, these are the most recent statistics available, and were still used in AIFS reports as recently as 2022.

The mother vs father custody statistics in Australia paint a grim picture for fathers. Mothers are granted sole care of the children, or between 87-99% of the time with the children, in almost 40% (39%) of cases in Australia. In the inverse, Fathers are granted sole parental responsibility or spend between 87-99% of time with their children in only 3% of cases.

These statistics require some unpacking before we can draw conclusions from this data. There are several factors that influence this, and it likely does not reflect a bias by the court system against fathers.


How does the ‘best interests of the child’ impact custody outcomes?

While there is a great disparity in outcomes for parents based on gender, the court is not interested in preserving the rights of parents. Parenting Orders are to serve the best interests of the child. The Family Court looks at the benefit to the child of having a relationship with a parent and not the benefit to a parent of having a relationship with the child.

Parents’ roles can sometimes fall into the traditional categories of breadwinner and homemaker. Often one parent can be the income earner, while the other tends to care for the house and raise the children. Traditionally, husbands were often the income earners and mothers bore much of the parenting and homemaking duties. Where families fit into this mould, the court may decide that the best interests of the child are best served by them spending the majority of the time with the mother as they have been the children’s primary caregivers. Existing care arrangements are often continued to provide the children with stability. Traditional family roles can result in post-separation parenting arrangements favouring mothers.

One reason for the disparity shown in the above statistics for time arrangements is that fathers may not be able to have young children stay with them overnight. Newborns and toddlers may have to stay with their primary caregiver. This is especially the case where they require breastfeeding. There is no fixed rule for the age at which children can start spending overnight time with Dad. This will depend on the developmental stage and any specific needs of the child.


Domestic violence. 

Domestic violence is an unfortunate reality in family law and parenting disputes. Domestic violence is most often, but not always, perpetrated by men against women. It can include a wide range of behaviours, from physical violence to financial control, to emotional abuse. Parenting legislation is targeted to protect the victims of violence in parenting disputes. For this reason, where a father has committed domestic violence against a mother and/or children, the court is likely to determine that the father should have no time, supervised time, or limited time with the children.

Domestic violence allegations can influence a judge a decision in parenting disputes. Legislation that acknowledges the gendered nature of domestic violence can also give preference to female parties, and this can tend to incentivise systems abuse. Statistics for systems abuse are not readily available, but family lawyers report seeing it often. Domestic violence legislation influences family law proceedings and can ultimately contribute to fathers being awarded less time with their children than mothers. 


What does this mean for the fathers of Australia?

Australian fathers are still spending time with their children in 91% of disputes. The disparity in outcomes is largely explained by the traditional division of marital roles, the age of children, and domestic violence legislation. Circumstances vary on a case-to-case basis, but barring the exceptional then it is highly likely that you will be able to have substantial and significant time with your children, and it is certainly possible for fathers to be granted sole parental responsibility and the majority/all time.

Have questions about mother vs father custody statistics in Australia? Want to understand how to get more time with your child, or about what needs to be established before one can get residence or 50/50 “custody”? call our friendly team directly or request a call back via the form below.

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