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Shared arrangements must be respected and retained

It is hard to believe that in the 21st century we would entertain reducing fathers' rights to help rear their children.

Director of the Shared Parenting Council Mr Edward Dabrowski said
The law changes in 2006 addressed family violence. Despite what the critics say, the judge can defeat the presumption of equally shared parental responsibility if abuse and violence feature.

If violence is allowed to go unheeded then it is failure of the administration of the law to take the necessary protective action.

What we don't want to see return to court practice is the wholesale denial of shared time or denial of any contact at all on the flimsiest of allegations. I have come across many men over the years who are not allowed to contact their children until they reach 18 years of age on the basis of untested and unproven allegations. By then it is to late.
So the court has a duty under section 60K of the Act to address these concerns within an 8 week period. If violence is happening then the proper venue for dealing with this is the police. Also the court will not punish anyone who makes statements in good faith.

A major problem with the debate coming from divorce industry insiders is the speed with which divorcing parents are pathologised and tagged with violence.

The most common anger to surface during court proceedings is due to denial of contact.

Many fathers and some mothers report that the other parent deliberately withholds access to their children. The fear of losing a child, the grasping to stay connected, can cause tempers to fray. The adversarial court process is itself the greatest source of angst for many parents. Rather than calm parents it causes conflict to escalate. We need more marriage counseling and mediation to help parents through their ordeal, not Orwellian judgments separating parents and child.

In reality these mums and dads are fit parents who need our understanding, not policies of segregation. The greatest injury is done to children by segregating them from their mother and father. The Stolen Generation is all the evidence we need that segregation of a child from a parent does immeasurable harm.

Shared arrangements must be respected and retained

The Australian
29 August 2009, Page 16


Protect the Parents

Shared arrangements must be respected and retained

It is hard to believe that in the 21st century we would entertain reducing fathers' rights to help rear their children. Yet that is on the table as two separate reviews are carried out into the shared parenting arrangements introduced by the Howard government in 2006. The reviews - one commissioned by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, the other a scheduled review by the Australian Institute of Family Studies - are of central importance to the proper functioning of family law.

The backlash against the presumption of shared parenting rights except in cases of abuse or violence is growing as publicity reveals cases of dysfunctional and damaged fathers harming children or their former partners. There is also concern about cases where the Family Court has ruled against women taking their children interstate and away from their fathers. The case of Darcey Freeman, who was thrown from Melbourne's Westgate Bridge allegedly by her father during a custody dispute, has galvanised critics. In Canberra, a number of Labor women MPs and ministers are thought to be concerned about how the arrangements are operating.

The trauma in extreme cases is understandable, but these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The law must operate for the vast majority of parents, with enough safeguards when things go wrong. The new rules may need refinement, but the central principle must remain. The previous system, under which fathers had few explicit rights, was unfair. Denial of access led to some tragic cases of fathers killing their children in anger.

This is a fraught area, but any review must begin with the premise that men and women have equal opportunity to develop loving relationships with their children. Some critics blame former prime minister John Howard for responding to the vocal fathers' lobby. The pressure is on Labor to change the rules, but this policy should not be driven by ideology or party politics. The government should be cautious about changing arrangements designed to protect and nurture parents as well as children.

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