Using the latest available data; All statistics correct as of 05/04/2023.

Key statistics:

  • 16% of separated couples turn to dispute resolution services or lawyers, and 3% will go to court to make parenting arrangements
  • 45% of court orders issues by Australian courts provide sole custody to a mother, compared to 11% of court orders issuing sole parental responsibilities to a father
  • In just 3% of court orders, no contact is ordered for one parent of a child
  • In 2014, 1,255 children had orders placed for no face-to-face parenting time with a parent.

At Damien Greer Lawyers, we have over 40 years of expertise in child custody arrangements and family law. Over this time, we’ve seen all the myths, facts and misconceptions surrounding which parent gets custody, and the legal structures put in place.

To help show the state of custody arrangements in Australia, we’ve collated all the latest available statistics on mother and father child custody rates in Australia, and the most recent legislation governing them.

Most Common Distributions of Child Custody Between Mothers and Fathers



% of custody all arrangements

Mother takes a majority of custody Mother sole responsibility (father never sees) 9%
Mother sole responsibility (father daytime only) 18%
Mother 87-99%, Father 1-13% 12%
Mother 66-86%, Father 14-34% 34%
Mother 53-65%, Father 35-47% 10%
Equal custody 48-52% to mothers and fathers 9%
Father takes a majority of custody Father 53-65%, Mother 35-47% 2%
Father 66-86%, Mother 14-34% 2%
Father 87-99, Mother 1-13% 2%
Father sole responsibility (mother daytime only) 1%
Father sole responsibility (mother never sees) 1%

Based on information collected for the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), data from 2014 showed that 83% of child custody arrangements ordered a majority of (or complete) custody to the mother. In just 9% of cases, custody is split evenly between a mother and father. And just 8% of all sampled child custody arrangements saw the father take a majority of custody, or complete custody.

The most common arrangement is that the mother takes 66-84% custody of the child or children, while the father takes 14-34%. This roughly equates to fathers caring for the children involved for 2-5 days each fortnight.

Pathways Chosen by Parents for Organising Parental Arrangements


Fathers Mothers Total
Counselling/mediation/FDR services 9.9% 9.9% 9.9%
A lawyer 6.2% 5.3% 5.7%
The courts 3.0% 2.9% 2.9%
Discussions with other parent 71.5% 66.5% 68.9%
Nothing specific (just happened) 7.6% 13.0% 10.4%
Something else 1.8% 2.4% 2.1%

According to information compiled in research by AIFS, fathers who responded to a survey around their chosen method for organising parental arrangements were more likely to respond “discussions with other parent” (71.5%) than mothers (66.5%). Whereas mothers were more inclined to believe arrangements just happened naturally (13% to 7.6%), without specific discussions or methods.

Data from AIFS also showed that within the 3% of parents who chose court for their parenting arrangements, 54% reported cases of physical violence, and 85% reported emotional abuse. In nearly 50% of court cases, a parent reported concerns for either their own safety, their children’s, or both.

3 Methods for Ordering Parental Responsibilities

Pure Consent

This refers to when parents reach an agreement themselves. Results from AIFS show in 92% of these cases, custody is shared between parents. In 4%, responsibility falls exclusively with the mother, and a recorded 3% of children receive full custody from the father. Interestingly, fathers are almost as likely to receive full custody as mothers via arrangements made under pure consent.


Consent After Litigation

In these situations, consent is reached between the parents after the litigation pathway has commenced, but resolved before legal judgement is handed down. Under situations of consent after litigation, the significant majority result in shared custody between parents (94% of cases).


Adjudicated Matters

The method of organising parental orders come from the decision made by a judge. When a judge is left to decide on parental orders, it is far less likely parents will receive shared custody – making up just 40% of results. In 45%, the mother receives full custody, compared to just 11% of cases resulting in sole custody to fathers.

Summary of Parental Responsibility Outcomes, by Method of Parental Order

Pure consent Consent after litigation Adjudicated matters
Shared parental responsibility 91.7% 93.7% 39.8%
Sole responsibility to mother 3.9% 3.7% 3.9%
Sole responsibility to father 2.5% 1.8% 2.5%
Other 1.9% 0.8% 1.9%

Data collected from AIFS, sourced from research released in 2015.

Laws Surrounding Parental Orders in Australia

In Australia, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) dictates that courts can make orders around two aspects of – parental responsibility and care time.

In doing so, the court will consider a range of factors, such as the child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, and their need to be protected from harm – including exposure to family violence or child abuse.


Legal Options for Parents Seeking Parental Orders

Each family is different, and finding the right parental orders will vary from situation to situation. If a family seeks advice or support from a legal professional to help arrange their parental agreement, they may end up organising:

  • A parenting plan A non-enforceable plan organised by the parents (typically with the advice of a family lawyer).
  • Consent orders – Another form of written agreement, however, a consent order is legally enforced and registered with the court.

For all the legal solutions, advice and support dealing with child custody agreements, speak to the family law experts at Damien Greer Lawyers.

Using the latest available data; All statistics correct as of 05/04/2023.