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Shared Parenting Rollback: Fed Govt Reports - 2006 Shared Parenting Law Changes

Anti-father mother's rights activist beats up violence

Informations about the reports released by the Attorney-General and the media reporting and responses to those reports.

The lives of men and their children are harmed by the lies of false allegations of abuse, violence and sexual abuse that women tell to police, courts, government and the media.

All too many children are defrauded out of the love and care of a good father, because lies are told about him in order to justify the mother deserting and evicting him, and seeking to control and minimise contact with the children, in order to maximise financial gain from the 'separation' by the mother.
 

ABC Central Victoria
29 January 2010

Fears family law reforms a safety risk

A central Victorian group campaigning against family violence says new studies show recent law changes are resulting in more violence against women.

The Institute of Family Studies has released its assessment of Family Law Act changes which took effect four years ago.

The changes were designed to address unfairness towards fathers in family separation cases and resulted in more equal custody arrangements.

But Margaret Augerinos from Bendigo's Centre for Non-Violence says shared custody is putting women and children in danger.

"Where violence has been present in a relationship and high levels of fear exist, it can create more problems for children," she said.

"A lot of these studies that have been released over the past month or so indicate that there's a long way to go in meeting the needs of kids."

Ms Augerinos wants a review of equal custody arrangements.

"This has had a range of unintended effects. There's been a number of studies done showing that shared parenting arrangements - even in the best of circumstances, where there's no conflict between parents - is very difficult to manage," she said.

Australia Releases Family Law Reforms Evaluation

The Gov Monitor - Public Sector News & Information

Australia Releases Family Law Reforms Evaluation

Source: Government of Australia
Posted on: 28 January 2010

The most comprehensive evaluation of Australia's family law system  drawing on the experience of 28,000 Australians  has found that overall the recent reforms are working well for the majority of children and their parents.

"There's more use of family relationship services, a decline in court filings and some evidence of a shift away from people going straight to court to resolve post-separation relationship difficulties," said Australian Institute of Family Studies Director Professor Alan Hayes.

However the Institute, which conducted the evaluation of the 2006 family law changes, found significant concerns about the reforms' impact on families and children who are exposed to abuse and violence.

The three year long evaluation is the largest examination of the family law and service system yet undertaken, and shines a light on how families and children fare through the system when families break-up.

"More than a million Australian children currently live in separated families," Professor Hayes said.

"The way in which separated couples resolve parenting arrangements, make decisions about their children and conduct their relationships all have significant and lasting impacts on their children's lives for better or worse depending on how well they manage post-separation parenting.

"The message out of this evaluation is clear  ongoing conflict between separated parents leads to worse outcomes for children."

Professor Hayes said that overall, the reform goal of getting separated parents to work things out for themselves is being achieved, with most separated parents resolving their parenting arrangements within one year and without the use of the legal system.

"This is evidenced in a reduction in child-related parenting matters reaching court, with a fall in applications for court orders and a greater proportion of parents reporting they were able to resolve their issues themselves, supported by the new family relationship services," he said.

However for a substantial proportion of separated parents, there is evidence of significant family dysfunction: violence issues, safety concerns, mental health and substance misuse.

And for children whose parents have concerns about the safety of their child or themselves from ongoing contact with the other parent, shared care-time arrangements exacerbate the negative impacts on children.

"The evaluation provides clear evidence that while there have been some positive developments, the family law system has some way to go in effectively responding to family violence and child abuse, mental health and substance misuse.

"Where there were safety concerns reported by parents, these were linked to poorer outcomes for their children in all types of care relationships, but for those in shared care time, it was even worse. This is a small but extremely significant minority.

"All professionals should exercise great care in considering shared care where violence and safety concerns for the child exists," Professor Hayes said.

There is a need for professionals right across the system to have greater levels of access to finely tuned assessment and screening mechanisms by highly trained and experienced professionals.

And important information about child safety and family violence needs to be more effectively shared between professionals including those in family relationship services, lawyers and the courts.

"But it's worth remembering that while the evaluation found that for an important minority equal care time was a serious concern, for children where there's no violence or abuse, equal care time was found to work well."

The evaluation found evidence that many parents misunderstand the changes to the family law system, believing that equal shared parental responsibility (shared decision making and financial support) allows for equal shared care  or 50/50 time. This can make it more difficult for parents, relationship services professionals, lawyers and the courts to get parents to focus on the best interests of the child.

"This misunderstanding is due in part to the way the notion of shared parental responsibility is expressed in the legislation. It has led to disillusionment among some fathers who find that it doesn't automatically mean 50/50 care time. And indeed, the law was never intended to provide for shared care time in cases where there are safety concerns.

"Lawyers in particular have indicated that the 2006 reforms have promoted a focus on parents' rights rather than children's needs and that the family law system doesn't do enough to support arrangements that are suitable for a child's particular level of development.

"The evaluation has highlighted the complex and varied issues faced by separating parents and their children and the diverse range of services required in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for children. While there are many perspectives within the family law system, and conflicting needs, it's important to maintain the primacy of focussing on the best interests of children," he said.

Key findings from the evaluation include:

- 71 per cent of fathers and 73 per cent of mothers say they've sorted out their care arrangements

- 39 per cent of parents who used family dispute resolution reported reaching an agreement

- 78 per cent of Family Relationship Centre staff and 86 per cent of family dispute resolution staff say that family dispute resolution is inappropriate due to family violence for up to a quarter of parents they see

- 16 per cent of children are in shared care-time arrangements (i.e., where 35-65 per cent of time is spent with both parents)

- More fathers than mothers propose equal time arrangements when going to court  10 per cent of mothers and 27 per cent of fathers

- A majority of separated parents were in friendly or cooperative relationships (just over 60 per cent)

- Just under one fifth of separated parents reported their relationship to be full of conflict or fearful, with mothers twice as likely as fathers to report a fearful relationship

- Around one in five parents reported safety concerns with ongoing contact with the child's other parent

- 26 per cent of mothers and 17 per cent of fathers reported their partner had physically hurt them before or during separation.

Topics: 2006, abuse, Australia, child safety, children, courts, evaluation, families, Family law, family law reforms, family law system, family relationship services, family violence, Governance, government, health care, Health Care, lawyers, mental health, monitor, news, parents, safety concerns, screening, society, substance abuse, violence

Lawyers applaud family law report

"The peak body representing Australian lawyers" is essentially a UNION by another name.

Lawyers applaud family law report

The New Lawyer
29 January 2010

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Lawyers applaud family law report

The peak body representing Australian lawyers has applauded the federal government's three newly released reports examining the operation of the family law system and law courts.

The Law Council's Family Law Section contributed to the reviews, which were conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Professor Richard Chisholm.

The Law Council claims changes to the family law system must be based on providing services that those using the system really need, and delivering those services in the most effective way, said Law Council president Glenn Ferguson.

"Family law practitioners, in their experience, are of the opinion that shared parenting, which involves a high level of communication and willingness to co-operate on the part of both parents, may not be suitable for all families. However, practitioners readily work with families to help them negotiate other arrangements to promote a strong relationship with both parents."

The Law Council endorses the AIFS' findings that, when developing parenting arrangements, it is important to identify those families where safety is a concern.

"While the Family Law Act acknowledges the profound effect that family violence has on children and families, the family courts system is not adequately resourced to realistically deal with violence and its effects."

While the Law Council strongly encourages the use of family dispute resolution services that are available outside the court system, it must be remembered that the family law courts provide a vital resource for those unable to resolve issues arising from the breakdown of family relationships.

"The Law Council will fully consider the findings of the reports over coming weeks and we look forward to further consultation and discussion with the Government regarding their recommendations," Mr Ferguson concluded.

Mothers' rights activist Kathleen Swinbourne denigrates separated fathers as "abusers"

Kathleen Swinbourne said
Women and children were being put at risk, with children being forced to be handed over to their abusers.

Kathleen Swinbourne denigrates separated fathers as  abusers""

Crikey.com
29 January 2010

Family law legislation is putting women and children at risk
By Kathleen Swinbourne, President of the Sole Parents' Union

Family Law is one of the most contentious and emotional issues that governments have to deal with. Everybody feels like a loser in the Family Court. Whether it's about property, custody, or child support, nobody comes out a winner. That's why there are so many complaints about it, and so many inquiries into it.

The government released three reports yesterday on the effect of the changes to the Family Law Act. These changes, introduced in 2006, were designed to better enable both parents to be responsible for their children following separation. Nobody was really happy with what was happening previously. Generally, you got what was called the 80/20 rule - mothers had custody of children, and fathers had 'access' every second weekend and maybe half of the school holidays.

This left everybody disgruntled. Dads were encouraged to be "Disney Dads" taking kids out and buying them things when they saw them. Mothers were generally left to do all the disciplining and pick up the pieces when fathers didn't turn up. Kids were shunted back and forth every second weekend, disrupting their social networks and sporting competitions.

Nobody liked it, and everybody wanted it changed. But not the way it happened.

The 2006 changes were called the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. Great name, great intention. But what it did was introduce a presumption of shared custody of, rather than shared responsibility for children. It did this by including in the Family Law Act a number of clauses which specifically talk about children spending substantial time with each parent. While the government says this was never the intention, that is what is happening in many cases.

The first report on the latest changes is from the Australia Institute of Family Studies. It's the mildest of the three, and it found that shared care (not shared custody) generally works well. Except in cases where there is violence or abuse, where the well being of children is severely compromised in shared care arrangements. Hardly surprisingly, it also found that in cases which go to the Family Court there are higher percentages of violence than in the general population, and that the Family Law system doesn't respond very well to violence or child abuse.

It also found that the (unintended) consequences of this legislation are that it favours fathers over mothers, and parent's rights over children's needs. As a result, there are children in shared care arrangements where there are concerns for their safety.

The Family Law Violence Review by Richard Chisholm goes even further. It found that women are now very reluctant to raise allegations of violence or abuse in court for fear that they will lose custody if they fail to prove it. The very circumstances reported by Darcey Freeman's mother after Darcey was murdered by her father when he threw her off the West Gate Bridge.

And then there's the report by the Family Law Council which finds that women and children are being put at risk, and the Family Court doesn't deal very well with violence.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time this has happened.

Way back in December 2000, the Rhoades, Graycar & Harrison report on the first three years of the 1996 Family Law changes found exactly the same thing. Women and children were being put at risk, with children being forced to be handed over to their abusers.

I hate to say "I told you so", but  I told you so. Many people told you so. In fact, all the evidence and all the experts told you so. The Family Court said they wouldn't be able to administer a presumption of shared care, lawyers said there would be confusion about what it meant, domestic violence workers said women and children would be put at risk, child psychologists said it wouldn't be good for children, research from places where it has been introduced said shared care doesn't work where it is court ordered and there are high levels of conflict, or violence or abuse. Yet, it was introduced.

The Attorney General said yesterday we need more education, rather than any legislative change. More education? I don't think even the Audit Office could work out how much money and time governments have spent over the years educating people about domestic violence. Yet it still happens. And courts still ignore it. And, more importantly, governments continue to listen to very vocal, very disgruntled men's groups who deny that it is a problem and insist that women make up allegations of violence to gain an advantage in court. If you don't believe me, just read the transcripts of the Hearings into these very changes.

Three reports Mr Attorney General. Three. All independent of each other, and all saying the same thing. These changes are not working. It's the legislation itself putting women and children at risk, not lack of understanding about it.

One child has already died as a direct result of this legislation. How many more have to do so before you agree to change it?


Comments

Jenny
Posted Friday, 29 January 2010 at 3:14 pm


Excellent article. Its so frustrating when a noisy minority makes things worse for everyone. Children are so vulnerable they need every protection we can give them as a society.


Chris Twomey
Posted Friday, 29 January 2010 at 3:29 pm

The Senate Committee hearings into these changes was warned quite clearly about all these risks.

There was a minority report by the Democrats and the Greens at the time which reads like a script for the Chisolm report as a result.

http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/legcon_ctte/completed_inquiries/2004-07/family_law/report/d02.htm

Yes, its yet another case of "I told you so" - what is frustrating is that I don't expect we'll see the necessary changes any time soon

There is also the issue of the triple whammy brought about by changes happening at the same time to the single parent pension under Welfare to Work, and changes to the child support formula.

There is still a disconnect between the assumption of equal shared care under family law and income support provisions that only allow Centrelink to consider one person as the primary carer for a child.

As a result its usually single mothers and their kids that are worse off…


Greg Angelo
Posted Friday, 29 January 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

Another feminist diatribe. Are there any men in the Sole Parent Union? Marital breakdown is a difficult subject and for decades men got the short end of the stick. I am in no way defending violence by either party in a breakdown in a marital relationship.

Isn't custody shared responsibility, or have I missed the point somewhere? In any judicial situation allegations of abuse need to be substantiated or they are inadmissible. Unfortunately this means that many crimes a difficult to prove as a consequence of no witnesses.

However the corollary of the case is that if there is no onus of proof then unsubstantiated accusations can be made and a presumption of guilt will exist unless innocence can be proved which is equally difficult. Unless children are at risk, equal time with both parents seems to me to be a reasonable proposition. Similarly equal contribution towards upbringing of children should be the objective as with shared parenting both parents should be able to work.

In relation to "vocal men's groups", these are outnumbered by significant numbers of vocal women's groups with agendas substantially biased against men. Posturing on either side does not solve problems.

If either parent is abusing children, then by all means restrict access, but the simplistic feminist mantra that all men are aggressive bullies and consequently men should have no custody should be rejected and each case evaluated on its merits.

Raising the Darcy Freeman case is a massive red herring. The Family Court had no reason to suspect that either parent would place the children at risk. Furthermore had Mrs Freeman thrown a child off the bridge, would the feminists be advocating custody of children by their fathers because of the possible risk of them being harmed by their mothers? I think not.


Paulg
Posted Friday, 29 January 2010 at 7:53 pm

There are no parental rights; only parental responsibilities. The best interests of the child must always be the paramount consideration in each case. There should be no presumptions in the legislation. Time spent with a child does not equate to and should not be confused with exercise of parental responsibility.

Past or present physical or emotional abuse by a parent often indicates a poor ability to exercise responsibility by that parent in the future, and will almost always adversly affect relationships and the ability to make parenting decisions cooperatively. Yes there are difficulties in proving alegations of past violence and abuse.

More resources are needed in disputed cases to enable independent expert evidence to be obtained and presented. And, no, I have not yet read the recently released reports.


Richard Murphy
Posted Saturday, 30 January 2010 at 2:56 am

Onya Greg A. Swinbourne is exactly the kind of political feminist you'd expect to find at a lobbying outfit like SPU. The truth is it's the corrosive acrimony of the gender war at the heart of totalitarian State control systems. DOCS and Human Services, which effectively make the (Childrens) courts, at State level particularly, a complete sham.

I well remember my idealistic young counsel emerging ashen-faced from a courtroom toilet in which he had just thrown up. This was in the days of true Legal Aid when cases might last up to 3 weeks. The opposing (Departmental) barrister had just jeered at him for conducting a spirited defence when "we all know what the outcome is, stop wasting your time".

The chilling despotism of these Departments is perhaps historical feminism's greatest victory.


gerard
Posted Saturday, 30 January 2010 at 9:33 am

It should be made compulsary pre-nuptial part of any intending couple to spend at least an entire week in a Federal Family court, listening to endless woes of post nuptial trauma.

The seats are comfortable, cafes around the corner with lovely foccacias and lattes, guns and knives can be left behind with the Court orderlies.

It is never too late for change and have second thoughts!

http://oosterman.wordpress.com/


Hugh (Charlie) McColl
Posted Saturday, 30 January 2010 at 12:00 pm

I'm disappointed that this article has started off in a good place, reporting rather than opining, but quickly gone astray and off over one edge. In the sixth paragraph we read about the first of the reports "It's the mildest of the three, and it found that shared care (not shared custody) generally works well. Except in cases where there is violence or abuse, where the well being of children is severely compromised in shared care arrangements."

So shared care "generally works well" and this description applies to every separation involving children in Australia since 2006. However, without any mention of statistics for "violence or abuse" inside shared care arrangements, the remainder of the article, including the reporting on the other two reports, is more or less singularly devoted to demolishing the operation of the Family Court and the shared care provision because of the breakdown of arrangements through violence or abuse. As if violence and abuse are a prominent feature in separations.

I simply cannot accept this presumption or the allowance of it to creep into the report. I don't have any statistics at all to offer but without any being presented this article seriously distorts the picture.


Hugh (Charlie) McColl
Posted Saturday, 30 January 2010 at 11:22 pm

I stand ready to be corrected Gerard but I'm relatively sure that a member of the public cannot walk into the Family Court during my divorce or custody proceedings. I'm pretty sure that participants in proceedings wait their turn and go through one matter at a time. Sure, you can enter when the Court is empty to check out the furnishings or the lay of the land - but that is not what I meant. I can't actually find a specific reference to this on the Family Court site. Perhaps some half-knowledgable lawyer out there can finesse this discussion?


Dom Padden
Posted Sunday, 31 January 2010 at 7:50 am

The Family Law Violence Review by Richard Chisholm goes even further. It found that women are now very reluctant to raise allegations of violence or abuse in court for fear that they will lose custody if they fail to prove it.

Can you cite where in the Chisholm report it says that? I can't find it.


Matthew Beauregard
Posted Monday, 1 February 2010 at 9:49 am

A poorly-constructed article that doesn't give me sufficient information to form any kind of opinion. What are the differences between shared custody and shared responsibility that make shared responsibility workable and shared custody terrible? In what proportion of shared custody situations does abuse subsequently occur? What is the success rate of the new system in giving children reasonable access to both parents, compared with the old system? Seems to me you think the new system should be condemned largely on the basis of a single death. Unfortunately, there will always be some number of children who suffer or die at the hands of their parents. No doubt this happened under the previous system as well.

Every family shaped in its own way

To my knowledge, Dabrowski did not "describe the family court as factories for severing the bonds between fathers and children". I understand this is a manufactured quote made up by the 'journalist', Caroline Overington.

The Australian
30 January 2010 12:00AM

Every family shaped in its own way
By Caroline Overington

Edward Dabrowski is the executive director of the Shared Parenting Council. He's based in Western Australia, where he works for BHP. He has two adolescent children and he's in a shared care arrangement with his ex-wife, meaning he spends substantial periods of time with them, including over Christmas, during holidays and during the week.

Dabrowski says he co-operates with his ex-wife about parenting because it is in the best interests of his children.

"To me, it's taking a child's human rights away, to shut them away from their father," he says. "The research shows, if you take a boy away from his father, and he hasn't got that role model, he can end up lacking in self-esteem.

"He never feels he's good enough. He wonders where he's going wrong. He can fall into crime. With girls, if they have got the affection of their fathers, they don't have to go looking for affection in multiple relationships."

Having been separated for more than nine years, Dabrowski acknowledges that there is water under the bridge in his failed marriage. He has mellowed since the days when he'd describe the family court as factories for severing the bonds between fathers and children. Sometimes, when he goes to his ex-wife's house, he'll even be invited in to watch his son playing a new computer game or to have a cup of tea.

When one of his children was having a first communion, he threw open the door to his own house, so the whole family, his ex-wife included, could celebrate together.

It would be going too far to say its all smooth sailing, but Dabrowski passionately believes that his way - shared parenting, with substantial if not exactly equal time - is the right way, which is why he's passionately opposed to any change to the so-called "shared parenting" laws introduced by the Howard government in 2006.

On the flipside are groups such as the National Council for Children Post Separation, who argue that change is necessary, and urgently so, because, they argue, the changes have placed women and children at risk of violence. There is no doubt that violence sometimes occurs: federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland ordered a review of the shared parenting law because a four-year-old girl, Darcey Freeman, was thrown from the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne last year, allegedly by her father.

But did the changes to the Family Law Act (1975) bought in by the Howard government really create an environment in which Darcey was more at risk than she would have been, before the law was changed? And are more women and children at risk than were before?

Some history is necessary. The changes to the Family Law Act (1975) came about because the Howard government, and many in the community, saw a problem with the way family law was operating; namely, that children whose parents separated would spend most of their time with one parent (usually the mother) while the other parent (usually the father) would see the children only every other weekend, and half the school holidays (in legal terms, this was known as the 80:20 split, because it meant the children spent around 80 per cent of their time with their mother).

Over time, a father's relationship with his children often dwindled away to nothing.

The Howard government conducted a review with the aim of finding ways for both parents to remain involved in their children's lives. That review ruled out equal time, because a flat "equal time" would have shifted the focus from the rights of children to the rights of parents.

Instead, it said the courts should presume a child's best interests were met by having a relationship with both parents, and that children would benefit from "equal shared parental responsibility" - which doesn't mean a 50-50 time split, although the legislation does say the court must consider making orders that the child spend "equal time", or if not equal time, then "substantial time" with both parents.

In one of the first reviews of the shared parenting law, released last Thursday, retired family court judge Richard Chisholm says that putting the word "equal" in there had confused people. Men, in particular, thought they could now get a 50-50 time split, when in fact that was never in the law. McClelland agreed, saying there was a "misunderstanding in the community about who was entitled to what".

Chisholm suggests that rather than assuming any particular outcome, be it 80-20, or 50-50, the law should ask the court to consider all options, and decide what's best in each case.

That, however, was not his only recommendation. Chisholm also suggested the Rudd government scrap those provisions in the shared parenting law that were potentially putting women and children at risk of violence.

The first of these is the so-called "friendly parent" provision. It requires a court to look at "the willingness of each of the children's parents to encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child, and the other parent, after divorce".

In other words, a parent who is hostile to their ex-partner, and rubbishes them in front of the children or flouts court orders and refuses to hand the children over, can be tagged "unfriendly" and the court can then order they get less time with the children.

The second provision regards costs. A parent who raises allegations of violence that aren't proven can be made to pay some, or even all, of the other party's costs.

Chisholm's report says these provisions were included "as a response to certain groups [read: men's groups] who expressed a concern about false allegations of violence."

But, he said, mothers had since developed "a fear of not being believed" if they raised allegations of violence. This he described as the "victim's dilemma".

Chisholm says, as most people know, that "the majority of men are not violent". Likewise, the "majority of mothers support their children having a close relationship with their fathers".

With that in mind, he still recommends change. The Family Court should examine each case on its merits.

The alternative is what's now in place: a tangled web of legislation that many people misunderstand and that judges are expected to somehow mould fractured families around.

Family law bid to halt threats over finances

A report on family law recommends a change to the legal definition of violence to encompass behaviour that is "economically abusive", threatening or coercive. The report, by the Family Law Council, says changes made to the Family Law Act (1975) by the Howard government narrowed the definition of violence and was "conservative in its drafting".

Family law bid to halt threats over finances

The Australian
30 January 2010 12:00AM

Family law bid to halt threats over finances
By Caroline Overington

A report on family law recommends a change to the legal definition of violence to encompass behaviour that is "economically abusive", threatening or coercive.

The report, by the Family Law Council, says changes made to the Family Law Act (1975) by the Howard government narrowed the definition of violence and was "conservative in its drafting".

The review was one of three reports released this week on family law, one of which warned that women and children were at a greater risk of violence.

The Family Law Council report said the definition of violence in the act was in "some ways reminiscent of the common law definition of assault".

"It is questionable whether it encompasses the debilitating psychological abuse by controlling conduct," the report says.

It argues that the definition of family violence should be amended to encompass behaviour that is not only physically or sexually abusive, but also economically abusive, threatening, coercive, "or in any other way controls or dominates" the other party.

In another of the reports, the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that fewer than one in five children of separated parents were living in a shared-care arrangement.

A third report, by retired Family Court judge Richard Chisholm, recommended changes to shared parenting laws, saying women and children were at greater risk of violence.

The AIFS report shows that babies and even young toddlers mostly were in the care of their mothers for much of the time.

Men's Rights Agency director Sue Price said the figures showed that fathers were still being locked out of their children's lives, just as they were before the notion of shared parenting was introduced by the Howard government in 2006.

Ms Price said the AIFS report found only 16 per cent of children whose parents had separated between July 2006 and September 2008 had a shared-care time arrangement, with the proportion varying according to the age of the children.

"Clearly the 2006 changes did not go far enough," Ms Price said.

The National Council for Children Post-Separation said the report also showed that one in five shared parenting arrangements had been agreed upon, despite there being concerns about the risk of harm.

The council's founder, Barbara Biggs, said women were too frightened to raise allegations of violence, lest they lose the children in the custody battle.

She ridiculed Attorney-General Robert McClelland for saying the 2006 laws had been "misunderstood" and were never meant to suggest to the courts that children spend equal time with each parent.

"Our support group has spoken to many parents whose own lawyers have told them not to raise allegations of violence and abuse, saying the court won't like it," Ms Biggs said.

"Many parents have been forced to send their children to abusive and violent parents, who are part of court-ordered custody visits."

Adele Horin wants family law rolled back

It is not hard to understand why the Government would try to downplay the reports: any association with the fraught area of family law stirs up controversy and grief for politicians. The Rudd Government is unlikely to risk re-igniting the bitter shared-care debates of the Howard era by embarking on law reform, even if the task is to tidy up a sloppily worded act that has sown confusion, raised false expectations, emphasised parents' rights over children's needs and put some families at risk through a legislative "nudge", as one report says, to the shared-care option. The last thing it wants is to attract the ire of the separated fathers' lobby with headlines about rolling back shared care. But the Government has an obligation to fix the system to make it safer, fairer and clearer, and should not take the road of least resistance. Too much emphasis, the reports show, is given to children maintaining a meaningful relationship with parents and too little to keeping them safe.

Adele Horin wants family law rolled back

The Sydney Morning Herald
30 January 2010

Family law must be reformed to make the safety of children the top priority
By Adele Horin

On the afternoon when millions of Australians - and the nation's media outlets - were transfixed by the unveiling of the Federal Government's My School website, the Attorney-General Robert McClelland released three major reports on the family law system. Totalling almost 800 pages, the complex reports contained good and bad news but most journalists barely had time to skim the press releases in the scant hours before their deadlines.

It is not hard to understand why the Government would try to downplay the reports: any association with the fraught area of family law stirs up controversy and grief for politicians. The Rudd Government is unlikely to risk re-igniting the bitter shared-care debates of the Howard era by embarking on law reform, even if the task is to tidy up a sloppily worded act that has sown confusion, raised false expectations, emphasised parents' rights over children's needs and put some families at risk through a legislative "nudge", as one report says, to the shared-care option.

The last thing it wants is to attract the ire of the separated fathers' lobby with headlines about rolling back shared care. But the Government has an obligation to fix the system to make it safer, fairer and clearer, and should not take the road of least resistance. Too much emphasis, the reports show, is given to children maintaining a meaningful relationship with parents and too little to keeping them safe.

The most contentious of the three reports by the former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm recommends changes to the Family Law Act to better protect children and parents in violent situations and to dampen expectations of shared care. In essence it supports many of the critics of the Howard government's 2006 reforms. Chisholm in no way seeks a return to the days when fathers saw their children every second weekend and half the school holidays. But he proposes shifting the emphasis from shared care by making it one of many options judges could consider, instead of singling it out in the law.

He also proposes to make it less risky for parents to raise issues of violence. "The cliche that violence is 'easy to allege' is misleading," he says but current provisions in the act - including special provisions for cost orders for making false allegations - suggest that "the system is suspicious of those who allege violence". Chisholm also wants judges to be able to give equal weight to a broad range of matters when determining what is in the best interests of the child. Currently two considerations are given primacy - a child's right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents and their need to be safe. Violence and abuse are serious matters, but not the only damaging parenting defects, the report says.

Though the Attorney-General commissioned the report, it was clear he wanted to play down its recommendations. In barely legible typeface, the Chisholm report had the appearance of an after-thought.

All the attention was focused on a glossy document, the Australian Institute of Family Studies' evaluation of the 2006 reforms. This impressive, indeed world-leading feat of research, has taken a team three years to complete and is based on the experiences of 28,000 Australians, including 10,000 parents affected by the reforms, as well as grandparents, and lawyers.

It showed that for most parents the system was working well - the new network of Family Relationship Centres, in particular, was helping to deflect parents from going to court to fight over the children and most people felt they were treated fairly.

But it also found the system was letting down a sizeable minority of separating parents involved in violent situations - about 20 per cent. It found a majority of lawyers perceived the 2006 reforms favoured fathers over mothers and parents over children, and over half felt the system did not deal adequately with family violence. People were confused about the law, leading to disillusionment, especially among fathers, causing anger and time-wasting. The wording of the act had led many fathers into wrongly believing shared care was a right providing they were not violent. In fact, shared parental responsibility for the major decisions in a child's life is more or less a right, an entirely different matter. Judges only have to consider granting shared care.

But the institute, a research body, is not charged with making recommendations and nor did it do so. It produced a welter of statistics, charts, tables and analysis but it made no controversial proposals about how the Government could improve the system.

So it was no wonder McClelland focused on the institute report and gave short shrift to Chisholm's proposed law reforms. He signalled he saw no need to reform the act to make it less confusing, favouring the tack taken in the third report he released, by the Family Law Council, of better educating the public about "certain widespread misunderstandings of the act".

Taken together, the three reports provide an excellent basis for improving a system that has many positive features but is failing a significant and vulnerable minority. McClelland's ready dismissal of the Chisholm proposals may be a sign the Government lacks the guts - so readily on show with the Howard government - to champion even modest reforms to the family law system.

Fathers vow to unite and fight family law reversal

The Sydney Morning Herald
30 January 2010

Fathers vow to unite and fight family law reversal
By Adele Horin

Fathers' groups have vowed to fight any attempt to roll back shared-care provisions in family law with plans to form a coalition to lobby the Senate and marginal electorates.

Responding to government-commissioned reports that were published on Thursday and pointed to problems with family law reforms of 2006, the national president of the Lone Fathers' Association, Barry Williams, said: "If the [Federal] Government intervenes, there'll be a backlash at the election this year. We can reach probably hundreds of thousands of people."

Fathers' lobby groups were influential in securing passage of the reforms under the Howard government, using phone and email trees to reach 79,000 people, Mr Williams said.

An evaluation of the reforms by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found 70 per cent of male and female lawyers surveyed believed they had favoured fathers over mothers and 62 per cent that they favoured parents' rights over children's needs. Professionals often said perceptions of the act had "created fear and apprehension among separated mothers". One senior member of the bar said "a lot of women are desperate to settle because they're so frightened of what might happen if they go to court".

The institute also found a significant minority of lawyers and counsellors believed the reforms had given inadequate priority to protecting children compared with ensuring they maintained a relationship with both parents.

However, the institute also found that for the majority of families the new system worked well, especially the network of Family Relationship Centres that had diverted people from courts. And for the small minority of parents with shared care, 80 per cent were happy with the arrangement.

A second report on family violence and the family law system by a former Family Court judge, Richard Chisholm, recommended amending the legislation to end confusion about parents' rights to shared care.

Tony Miller, the founder of Dads in Distress, said groups had "fought long and hard" for the act, including the reference to "equal or substantial and significant" time, and it would be a blow if the reforms were rolled back.

The National Council for Children Post-Separation expressed concern at the apparent reluctance of the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to adopt the recommendations of the Chisholm report. Mr McClelland indicated at a news conference that the Government favoured education over legal changes.

The council said it felt "vindicated that three separate reviews have upheld our concerns that the current system is failing children … parents have been forced to send their children to abusive and violent parents as part of court-ordered custody visits".

Its founder, Barbara Biggs, asked what the point was of three big reviews, if, because of an election year, the Attorney-General ascribed problems to misunderstanding and appeared to be "whitewashing" the findings.

Protests at proposed family law changes

"Furious" is a beatup word.

More like disappointed that Dads aren't seen by our society, government, courts AND MOTHERS as equal parents.

Protests at proposed family law changes

Herald Sun (Melbourne)
30 January 2010

Protests at proposed family law changes
By Siobhan Duck

Furious dads' groups say proposed national custody laws will create another stolen generation of children.

The Federal Government is considering laws that could make it harder for fathers to secure 50-50 custody of their children, and easier for women to raise concerns about violence.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the move followed the release of three reports looking into family law issues such as shared parenting and domestic violence.

But Lone Fathers' Association president Barry Williams said the suggested changes would be "feminism gone mad" and merely a return to an old system that favoured the rights of the mother over those of the father and the children.

He said his group of more than 16,000 members - men and women - and other fathers' and grandparents' rights groups across Australia would form a coalition to fight the changes.

"It's a backwards step and it will result in a huge backlash towards the Labor Government," he said.

"Most people in Australia agree that shared custody is the best option.

"The Government needs to remember we are voters and it will not be in their best interest to go ahead with proposed changes."

He said the rights of children should be the most important factor. "I have seen many children suffer because they have not been allowed contact with their fathers," he said.

"It's creating a second stolen generation."

One of the reports urged the Government to soften the law that deters parents, usually women, from making allegations about violent behaviour by the other parent.

The Family Court may also be asked to apply a new "triage" system to more quickly assess urgent risks relating to violence, relocation, substance abuse or mental health issues.

Mr Williams agreed families should be sent for immediate mediation and counselling when there was any suggestion of abuse so that the child's needs were properly assessed.

But he said accusations of violence and abuse should be proven in court before a parent lost access to their children.

He said many innocent fathers lost custody rights because of false accusations.

"When relationships breakdown bitterness comes in," he said. "We are in no way supportive of children remaining in a violent situation -we just want charges to be proved before the parent loses access to their child."

Family law system analysed

AG Robert McClelland said
"The AIFS evaluation finds that the principle of shared parental responsibility is widely supported, although it is often misconstrued as requiring equal shared care time and, according to AIFS, has led to unrealistic expectations among some parents. The AIFS evaluation reports that the majority of parents in shared care arrangements believed they were working well, but there were concerns where ongoing fear of violence existed. In addition, there has been a shift away from using the family law courts, with more separated parents using family dispute resolution services and consequently fewer disputes being resolved through litigation."

Family law system analysed

The Queensland Times
30 January 2010

Family law system analysed

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has released reports into the family law system on how the family law courts deal with cases involving family violence.

Mr McClelland said the reports analysed the family law system with the aim of "providing fair and sustainable solutions for families, while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children".

He said the Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) looked at the impact of changes which included:

- introducing a presumption of shared parental responsibility into the Family Law;

- requiring separating parents to attend family dispute resolution before going to court; and

- establishing Family Relationship Centres to provide information, advice and assistance to families with relationship difficulties.

"The AIFS evaluation finds that the principle of shared parental responsibility is widely supported, although it is often misconstrued as requiring equal shared care time and, according to AIFS, has led to unrealistic expectations among some parents," Mr McClelland said.

"The AIFS evaluation reports that the majority of parents in shared care arrangements believed they were working well, but there were concerns where ongoing fear of violence existed.

"In addition, there has been a shift away from using the family law courts, with more separated parents using family dispute resolution services and consequently fewer disputes being resolved through litigation."

The Family Courts Violence Review, conducted by Professor Richard Chisholm, and Improving Responses to Family Violence in the Family Law System conducted by the Family Law Council, examines legislation and court practices and procedures in cases involving family violence.

"Importantly, both the AIFS evaluation and these reviews find that the family law system has some way to go in effectively responding to issues relating to family violence," Mr McClelland said.

"The reports highlight issues relating to the screening and handling of family violence as well as legislative provisions that potentially deter the disclosure of allegations.

"The government is committed to improving the family law system so separated families can access the help they need and disputes can be resolved in the best interests of children."

The Attorney-General said the government would carefully consider the findings and recommendations of these reports and associated research, before outlining its response.

- Copies of the reports are available on the Attorney-General's department website at www.ag.gov.au.

Report Criticizes Australia's Shared Parenting Law

Parent Dish
29 January 2010

Report Criticizes Australia's Shared Parenting Law
By Tom Henderson

A retired family court judge in Australia says fathers are not entitled to split custody of their children.

Richard Chisholm says 50-50 custody often hurts kids. His 300-page report released Thursday criticizes Australia's shared parenting law and is sending shock waves across the land Down Under.

The Australian, the country's national newspaper, reports Chisolm calls the law a "tangle" that makes it more difficult for women to raise allegations of domestic violence in Australia's family court system.

His report was ordered by Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland after a 4-year-old Melbourne girl, Darcey Freeman, was allegedly thrown to her death from a bridge by her father, Arthur Phillip Freeman, last year.

Arthur Freeman's lawyer tells The Australian he plans to argue that his client is not guilty by reason of mental impairment during the trial set to begin in April.

Australia's shared parenting law was enacted in 2006 at the tail end of former Prime Minister John Howard's administration.

The idea was to make custody decisions based on the over-arching philosophy that all children have a right to know both parents while growing up and, further, that parenting is a responsibility that should be shared equally (unless the children's safety is at risk).

The law requires parents in custody battles to reach an agreement through a mediator. If they can't reach an agreement, family courts are supposed to divide custody evenly between both parents whenever possible.

What sounds good in theory has been a nightmare in practice, critics argue.

A report by the Australian Institute for Family Studies was released the same day as Chisholm's report and similarly concludes the 2006 shared parenting law favors fathers over mothers and parents over children.

Critics of the law have a blog where they argue the Freeman case illustrates the failings of shared parenting. They contend the girl's mother was too frightened to raise allegations of violence in family court, lest she be considered an uncooperative parent trying to undermine her children's father.

She ultimately agreed to a custody arrangement that gave her former husband access to all three of their children.

Critics argue family courts were weighted too heavily on the side of shared parenting, while ignoring concerns about the safety of Darcey Freeman and her two brothers.

Members of the group Fathers 4 Justice claim the law works fine in most cases, and, at long last, considers the rights of fathers in custody battles.

McClelland tells The Australian he will examine both reports - as well as a third from Australia's Family Law Council - before he makes any recommendations to the government of current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. However, he adds, it is clear the law has created problems.

That doesn't necessarily mean the law will be changed.

Chisholm tells The Australian that many fathers believe the shared parenting laws automatically entitle them to 50-50 custody. That was never what the law intended, he adds.

Attorney General McClelland tells the paper misunderstandings need to be addressed.

"The question is whether you need legislation to get that information out," he tells The Australian, adding that the government will look at the "lighter touch" of public education before diving into the "deeper waters of legislative change."

"How we address that is what we've now got to decide," he tells the newspaper.

Opposition cautions against family law changes

The Federal Opposition has warned the Government against making changes to family law that alter the principle of giving children the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents in the case of divorce or separation.
George Brandis: I think the report by Professor Chisholm does take a fairly tendentious view of the operation of the 2006 reform.

Opposition cautions against family law changes

ABC Radio AM with Tony Eastly
30 January 2010 08:08:00

Opposition cautions against family law changes

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Federal Opposition has warned the Government against making changes to family law that alter the principle of giving children the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents in the case of divorce or separation.

The Coalition introduced sweeping changes to the family law system four years ago reflecting that principle, but a report released this week found the amendments gave some parents the mistaken view they were entitled to equal custody.

And a separate report has recommended extra funding for the family court system to allow violence assessments in every case.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: In 2006 the Howard government introduced major changes to Australia's family law system, putting an emphasis on shared responsibility for separating parents.

This week, three reports were released on how the laws were working. The reviews were conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Family Law Council and former judge, Professor Richard Chisholm.

The Family Studies Institute found a 22 per cent drop in the number of cases going to court. But Professor Chisholm found many people wrongly believed the changes mean that separated fathers were automatically entitled to 50-50 custody of their kids.

The professor says the laws are confusing and troublesome, but the Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis disagrees.

GEORGE BRANDIS: I think the report by Professor Chisholm does take a fairly tendentious view of the operation of the 2006 reform.

SABRA LANE: The Government says it's considering an information campaign to clear up any misunderstanding, but Senator Brandis says he gives more weight to the report published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

GEORGE BRANDIS: What the Australian Institute of Family Studies found was that the principle of shared parental responsibility is widely supported; that in general the 2006 reforms have worked well.

And dealing with the particular issue on which Professor Chisholm addressed - that is the incidents of violence - the Australian Institute of Family Studies found - and I'm reading from the report, "There is no evidence to suggest that family violence and highly conflictual inter-parental relationships are any greater in children with shared care time than for children with other care time arrangements".

So, there seems to be something of a difference of emphasis, if not a conflict, between Professor Chisholm and Australian Institute of Family Studies.

And the Opposition is certainly strongly of the view that the release of these reports should not be used by the Government as a pretext or an excuse to walk away from the principle that every child has a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents on the occasion of family breakdown, while always maintaining, as has never been in doubt, the paramount interests of the child as the first consideration.

SABRA LANE: The reviews were handed down nearly 12 months after year after four-year-old Darcey Freeman was allegedly thrown off Melbourne's West Gate Bridge by her father.

Professor Chisholm's recommended every case before the family court should automatically be assessed for violence risks, and that the court be given adequate resources to do the job.

The Chief Justice of the family court, Justice Diana Bryant issued a statement, welcoming that finding.

The Attorney-General's office was asked about the recommendation for resources. A spokesman for Robert McClelland says the court already receives $2 billion in Commonwealth funding, but that it will be considered.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Sabra Lane reporting.

Listen: MP3 download - Online WMA version

Young families most likely to break up, research shows

The findings, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies report on the family law system, launched for public discussion last week, show that the Family Court is grappling with custody arrangements for very young children, born into the most dysfunctional and often violent families. The Rudd government is examining the AIFS report, plus two others, before deciding what, if any, changes should be made to the controversial "shared parenting" law introduced by the Howard government. The shared parenting law requires the court to presume that a child's best interests is served by having a relationship with both parents after separation, and to at least consider giving each parent equal time with the children.

Young families most likely to break up, research shows


The Australian
1 February 2010

Young families most likely to break up, research shows
By Caroline Overington

Couples who separate tend to be poorer, less educated and more likely to be unemployed or suffer from mental illness than couples who stay together, according to new research.
 
Separated couples are also more likely to have infants and preschoolers in their care, as opposed to older children.

The findings, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies report on the family law system, launched for public discussion last week, show that the Family Court is grappling with custody arrangements for very young children, born into the most dysfunctional and often violent families.

The Rudd government is examining the AIFS report, plus two others, before deciding what, if any, changes should be made to the controversial "shared parenting" law introduced by the Howard government.

The shared parenting law requires the court to presume that a child's best interests is served by having a relationship with both parents after separation, and to at least consider giving each parent equal time with the children.

The authors of the report, led by Melbourne academic Rae Kaspiew, found that parents who ended up in court tended to be younger than average couples, with the common age range for mothers between 25 and 34.

Fully half had children under three and only 7 per cent had a child older than 12.

The report found that "educational levels were lower than those found among parents who were together," with one in three having failed to attain a Year 11 education.

Half the women were not doing any paid work, and while 84 per cent of the fathers were in paid employment, the employment rate was lower than that found among parents who stay together.

The study found extremely high levels of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, mental illness and gambling in families that ended up before the court, with half the mothers saying that one or more of these issues were present.

'No excuse' for family law shake-up

The Federal Opposition has warned the Government against making changes to family law that alter the principle of giving children the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents in the case of divorce or separation.

'No excuse' for family law shake-up

ABC News
30 January 2010

'No excuse' for family law shake-up
By Sabra Lane for AM

The Federal Opposition has warned the Government against making changes to family law that alter the principle of giving children the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents in the case of divorce or separation.

In 2006, the Howard government introduced major changes to Australia's family law system, putting an emphasis on shared responsibility for separating parents.

This week, three reports were released on how the laws were working. The reviews were conducted by the Australian Institute of Family studies, the Family Law council and former judge, Professor Richard Chisholm.

The Family Studies Institute found a 22 per cent drop in the number of cases going to court.

But Professor Chisholm found many people wrongly believe the changes mean that separated fathers were automatically entitled to 50-50 custody of their kids.

The professor says the laws are confusing and troublesome, but Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis disagrees.

"The report by Professor Chisholm does take a fairly tendentious view of the operation of the 2006 reform," he said.

The Government says it is considering an information campaign to clear up misunderstanding, but Senator Brandis says he gives more weight to the report published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

"What the Australian Institute of Family Studies found was that the principle of shared parental responsibility is widely supported; that in general the 2006 reforms have worked well," he said.

"The Australian Institute of Family Studies found … 'There is no evidence to suggest that family violence and highly conflictual inter-parental relationships are any greater in children with shared care time than for children with other care time arrangements'.

"So there seems to be something of a difference of emphasis, if not a conflict, between Professor Chisholm and Australian Institute of Family Studies."

Senator Brandis says the release of the reports does not justify a change in direction for family law.

"[They] should not be used by the Government as a pretext or an excuse to walk away from the principle that every child has a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents on the occasion of family breakdown, while always maintaining, as has never been in doubt, the paramount interests of the child as the first consideration."

The reviews were handed down nearly 12 months after four-year-old Darcey Freeman was allegedly thrown off Melbourne's West Gate Bridge by her father.

Professor Chisholm has recommended every case before the Family Court should automatically be assessed for violence risks and that the court be given adequate resources to do the job.

The chief justice of the family court, Justice Diana Bryant, issued a statement welcoming that finding.

The Attorney General's office was asked about the recommendation for resources. A spokesman for Robert McClelland says the court already receives $2 billion in Commonwealth funding, but that it will be considered.

Shared parenting law brings little change

There has been a small increase in the number of children who spend substantial periods of time with both parents, but a shared parenting arrangement is currently in place for just 16 per cent of families. Prior to the introduction of the law, 12 per cent of families undertook a shared parenting arrangement.
That's an approximate 1% increase per year over the past 3 1/2 years. Not a great (sudden) increase but significant and beneficial change for children and their parents.  Social change like this should not be expected to be rapid and dramatic, nor should it be.
The slow pace of change in this area may be explained by the sheer complexity of the shared parenting law, which judges have described as "extremely complicated" for even lawyers to understand. As part of a report for the Rudd government on how the shared parenting law is working, the Australian Institute of Family Studies interviewed not only separating parents, but judges and lawyers, most of whom said the law was too complicated. One judge said: "In its current form, it is undoubtedly extremely complex." One barrister said: "The best interests of the child tends to get lost in amongst all the loops and hoops and criteria that one must rather artificially go through." Another judge said: "I think very few average people can understand it … they cannot go to the internet, look up the Family Law Act, and get the guts of it."
Perhaps it's just me, but this may speak more to a lack of intelligence on the part of judges and lawyers, or more likely, to their antagonism and resistance to shared parenting. It is to the advantage, job security and financial gain of the family law system, and thus of judges and lawyers, for cases to be conflicted and drawn out.  Focusing on the many false allegations of abuse and violence made against fathers will benefit judges and lawyers.

Shared parenting law brings little change

The Australian
3 February 2010

Shared parenting law brings little change
By Caroline Overington

The shared parenting law introduced by the Howard government has resulted in more children spending time with both parents after divorce, but the numbers who do so are minuscule and most children still spend the majority of time with their mothers.

A survey of 10,000 parents who have separated since the shared parenting law came into effect in 2006 found that one in 10 of their children now never saw their father, and one in five never stayed with him overnight.

By contrast, just 2 per cent of children never stayed overnight with their mother, and only 1 per cent did not see their mother at all.

There has been a small increase in the number of children who spend substantial periods of time with both parents, but a shared parenting arrangement is currently in place for just 16 per cent of families.

Prior to the introduction of the law, 12 per cent of families undertook a shared parenting arrangement.

The slow pace of change in this area may be explained by the sheer complexity of the shared parenting law, which judges have described as "extremely complicated" for even lawyers to understand. As part of a report for the Rudd government on how the shared parenting law is working, the Australian Institute of Family Studies interviewed not only separating parents, but judges and lawyers, most of whom said the law was too complicated.

One judge said: "In its current form, it is undoubtedly extremely complex."

One barrister said: "The best interests of the child tends to get lost in amongst all the loops and hoops and criteria that one must rather artificially go through." Another judge said: "I think very few average people can understand it … they cannot go to the internet, look up the Family Law Act, and get the guts of it."

The sheer complexity meant many people settled on a custody deal "by consent" - meaning they did not fight it out in court but had the court approve their own arrangement.

But as one lawyer said: "You've got a real tension because those who settle by consent feel as if they've been bullied into it."

The report says the emphasis on shared parenting in law hasn't much changed what happens in practice.

Almost 80 per cent of children spend most or all nights with their mother, and just 5 per cent of children spent most or all nights with their father.

However, the older the children, the more likely they are to spend nights with their father, while the proportion of children who spent most or all nights with their father increases with the child's age - from 3 per cent of those aged under three years, to 17 per cent of those aged between 15 and 17 years.

Two-thirds of children under the age of two are either always with their mother, or with her more than 80 per cent of the time.

Again Barbara Biggs Misunderstands the Facts

While they are certainly in need of dire training and education on the issues of family violence and intra-familial sexual abuse, surely a piece of legislation that is widely misunderstood is in dire need of changing. Since national protests against the amendments staged on May 3, participating parents now feel vindicated that three separate reviews have upheld our concerns that the current system is failing children.
On the contrary, it was the misandrist ideological and biased political agitation that lead to and influenced and directed the contents and conclusions of the reports and is continuing to push for changes that advantage women to the disadvantage of children and fathers. In other words the report writers 'found' what their mistresses wanted them to find, regardless of the facts or the the truth.

The call to consider and implement 'pre-separation involvement' is just another way to implement and enforce presumptive maternal custody.
One of the recommendations made to the Attorney-General's review by Richard Chisholm which has been mentioned as a possible change is that Australia follow Canada's lead and look at parents' involvement with their children pre-separation in determining access and custody post-separation. One parent said that pre-separation their partner had never bathed, fed, dressed, read a story to or taken their daughter to childcare and, a year after separation the child was still begging not to go on access visits.
Once a woman destroys her family and changes its form forever, its continued existence with her as the main day-to-day child carer should not be considered nor held as automatic or sacrosanct.

Barbara Biggs Deliberately Misunderstands the Facts

On Line Opinion
4 February 2010

Misunderstanding the Family Law
By Barbara Biggs

While many parents welcomed the findings of the three reviews into the Howard Government 2006 shared parenting amendments there should be concern. Despite the myriad of recommendations to help make children safer, Attorney-General Robert McClelland has flagged that he is reluctant to change the law.

The Attorney-General told the ABC, "Effectively bush lawyers or pub lawyers are providing advice to people … which is wrong and that can, it seems on the evidence, result in misunderstandings."

One has to wonder if he even read the reviews. It isn't "bush lawyers" who are "misunderstanding", it is judges and lawyers who work within the system. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) specifically said the misunderstandings were due to the wording of the Act.

And it isn't family and friend "bush lawyers" who are telling people not to raise allegations of violence and abuse, it's the clients' own lawyers. One mother who had a photograph of a hand-print welt on her daughter's back was told by her lawyer, "the court won't like it".

Despite all three reviews saying family violence and children's best interests are not properly addressed in the badly and hastily drafted 2006 amendments, the Attorney-General thinks the problems can be fixed by "education" campaigns to professionals.

While they are certainly in need of dire training and education on the issues of family violence and intra-familial sexual abuse, surely a piece of legislation that is widely misunderstood is in dire need of changing.

Since national protests against the amendments staged on May 3, participating parents now feel vindicated that three separate reviews have upheld our concerns that the current system is failing children.

One of the recommendations made to the Attorney-General's review by Richard Chisholm which has been mentioned as a possible change is that Australia follow Canada's lead and look at parents' involvement with their children pre-separation in determining access and custody post-separation.

One parent said that pre-separation their partner had never bathed, fed, dressed, read a story to or taken their daughter to childcare and, a year after separation the child was still begging not to go on access visits.

Many other parents have been forced to send their children to abusive and violent parents as part of court ordered custody visits with the parent's right to see the child being placed over and above the wellbeing of the child.

Both the AIFS review and the former Family Court Judge Richard Chisholm's review said that the way the Act was worded put parents' rights above the best interests of the child.

Many parents have been anxiously awaiting changes to the legislation, but now, despite three reviews all pointing to problems with families that separate after family violence and abuse, Attorney-General McClelland appears to be whitewashing the findings by repeating Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant's comments last year that the problems were simply due to "misunderstandings".

If family law can be so widely and comprehensively misunderstood by so many in the legal profession, how could that law be considered adequate when it deals with the childhoods and futures of the most vulnerable in our society?

Try telling Darcey Freeman's family; or Dionne Fehring who lost her two children in a murder suicide by their father who was awarded interim custody, that the current laws were simply misunderstood by judges and others in the legal profession.

What was the point of the AIFS review which interviewed 28,000 people and took three years, as well as an Attorney-General's and Family Law Council reviews, all at great cost to the community, if, because we are in an election year, the best the Attorney-General can come up with is to say "it's all a misunderstanding"!


About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More.

Misconceptions that are depriving children of their fathers

Shared care and domestic violence are separate issues. Children should not be exposed at any level. But there is definitely a risk of violence to children due to family breakdown and not simply from the father, but from the mother and other males. None of this bothers those who want the 2006 reforms abolished. For them mothers must have autonomy even at the expense of a child's relationship with its father. They see a way to this amid Labor's ascendancy. Single-mothers' groups such as the National Council for Children Post-Separation, backed by feminists and some journalists, have deliberately muddled the two issues of violence and shared care.
Chisholm recommends extensive dismantling of the 2006 reforms. In doing so, he seems to have exceeded his terms of reference, which were strictly limited to inquiring into matters before the federal Family Court in which issues of family violence arise.

Misconceptions that are depriving children of their fathers

The Australian
6 February 2010

Misconceptions that are depriving children of their fathers
Shared parenting by separated couples is not a perfect solution but that's no reason to scrap it

By Angela Shanahan

Two stories last week resonated with a familiar timbre, that of shrill feminists yelling for men's blood. The first was the hysterical reaction to Tony Abbott's Women's Weekly interview in which he expressed his opinion on what is both a father's right and duty; the moral education of his children .

The second story has a similar thread running through it, with much graver implications. It concerns shared parenting by separated or divorced couples, which was a basis for family law reforms in 2006. According to some commentators, it is a failed experiment.

The reaction is puzzling since it goes against a supposed feminist notion of equality: that fathers and mothers have equal responsibilities and roles in their children's upbringing.

This story has been building for almost a year and, depending on what you read, shared parenting is (according to this newspaper) "on the way out" or to be "rolled back" or "brings little change". According to The Sydney Morning Herald: "Shared care failed children."

Adding fuel to this is a report by Richard Chisholm and a psychologist, Jennifer McIntosh, that concludes the reforms of 2006 have not benefited children, especially in acrimonious situations, which one might have thought was obvious.

Since only 16 per cent of parents practise shared parenting - and, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, most arrangements work well - one wonders what Chisholm is talking about. To work well, they must be non-acrimonious.

But there is more. According to Chisholm many parents - read mothers who still are the main carers of children post-separation - are being "coerced" into shared arrangements by fear, and by a presumption on the part of the father that shared parenting equals 50-50 shared time.

According to Chisholm, an unacceptable number of children in court-mandated shared care are exposed to unnecessary levels of acrimony and possible violence.

However the legislation is clear that where shared care has been ordered by a court, the presumption of shared care is dependent on there being no violence; putting a child into a possibly violent situation contradicts the law. So what is all this about?

Shared care and domestic violence are separate issues. Children should not be exposed at any level. But there is definitely a risk of violence to children due to family breakdown and not simply from the father, but from the mother and other males.

None of this bothers those who want the 2006 reforms abolished. For them mothers must have autonomy even at the expense of a child's relationship with its father. They see a way to this amid Labor's ascendancy. Single-mothers' groups such as the National Council for Children Post-Separation, backed by feminists and some journalists, have deliberately muddled the two issues of violence and shared care.

Chisholm recommends extensive dismantling of the 2006 reforms. In doing so, he seems to have exceeded his terms of reference, which were strictly limited to inquiring into matters before the federal Family Court in which issues of family violence arise.

According to Richard Egan of Family Voice Australia, "Chisholm proposes radical changes that could profoundly affect all separating couples with children, not just those where family violence is an issue. The report proposes removing the qualifiers 'equal' and 'shared' from the key provision introduced by the 2006 reforms. These provisions affirm as a fundamental presumption of family law 'that it is in the best interests of the child for the child's parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child'.

"Chisholm's recommendation would see this key provision reduced to the meaningless statement that both parents are presumed to have 'parental responsibility', but not necessarily in equal measure."

As for 50-50 time, Attorney-General Robert McClelland has repeated Chisholm's claim that it is an erroneous concept in practice. "… Regrettably, there have been instances where people have resolved cases, settled cases, on the assumption that the law intends an equal split of time."

But the law does require the courts, when proposing to make orders for equal responsibility, to consider making an order to provide for the child to spend equal time with each of the parents, if this is considered to be practicable and in the child's best interests.

The AIFS reports that of those children whose parents separated between July 2006 and September 2008, one in three never stay overnight with their father and one in nine never see their father. That is an improvement on the situation prior to 2006.

Before 2006 there was a de facto presumption in favour of an "80:20 outcome" in which, usually, the mother was given care of the child for most of the time with the father being given care of the child for every second weekend and half of school holidays.

Chisholm's recommendations would only increase the incidence of practical fatherlessness already being experienced by too many Australian children, by depriving the court of any guidance favouring equal shared responsibility.

One suspects the claim some children in shared arrangements are unnecessarily exposed to domestic violence due to mothers being afraid to speak up is a sham to cover the number of false claims of such violence, which interestingly have dropped since 2006.

McClelland has said the catalyst for the Chisholm report was the death of little Darcey Freeman last year, allegedly at the hands of her father. According to this newspaper, her mother was intimidated into surrendering her.

Curiously the intimation is that only fathers who intimidate pose a risk. They don't. When Gabriela Garcia jumped off the same Melbourne bridge with her baby [Oliver Garcia] later last year, no one began an inquiry.

These deaths are tragedies, the product of despair and madness, not a catalyst for gender wars.

If we want to fix child abuse that is another issue. Mothers are more commonly perpetrators of child deaths than fathers, and boyfriends are six times more likely to be perpetrators of physical and sexual violence than biological fathers.

As Patrick Parkinson, a principal author of the reforms, has said, "In the past 30 years, we have sown the wind in the revolution in attitudes to sex, procreation and marriage. We are now reaping the whirlwind. The societal problems which this has caused are problems that no law can resolve." Family breakdown contributes to child abuse; shared care does not.

Why have the shared parenting amendments failed at trial?

Firstly, I would like to compliment D4L on a fantastic effort. I particularly appreciate his incisive comments to this tome of opinions. I will submit a brief, selective response.
There has been a small increase in the number of children who spend substantial periods of time with both parents, but a shared parenting arrangement is currently in place for just 16 per cent of families. Prior to the introduction of the law, 12 per cent of families undertook a shared parenting arrangement. That's an approximate 1% increase per year over the past 3 1/2 years.
From a mathematical perspective this is insignificant or statistically no change. The argument to repeal the changes is therefore moot.

Why have the shared parenting amendments failed at trial?

The judiciary would have us believe that shared parenting:

1. legislation is too complex to understand, ie they know better

2. is not in the best interests of the child, ie. McIntosh knows better

3. is actually shared parental responsibility, ie. we should no better.

In reply to (1):

a) The step by step working framework of the shared parenting amendments defined by the Chief Justice is readily understandable in the written judgments of the vast majority of parenting cases.

b) Justice Tim Carmody resigned because the amendments were too simple.

In reply to (2):

a) The academic paper of McIntosh/Chisholm is too flawed to be admissible as research.

b) Even if legitimate it applies only to a small minority of cases which are more appropriately dealt with by the psych expert in the family report.

c) If the judiciary wants to self-legislate entrenched conflict back into the amendments let them be electable.

In reply to (3):

a) The shared parental responsibility/shared parenting intent is a dangerous misdirection. The law requires that equal time be consideredfirst after shared responsibility is validated. Clearly they are sequential not mutually exclusive.

b) Equal time is therefore legitimately expected in shared parenting but subject to practicality within the 60CC objects.

c) Shared responsibility itself is just child support window dressing.

d) We will NO better at the next election. The family guy, Tony Abbott, is suddenly appealing.

I respectfully suggest the intent of the amendments is reflected in the reduced filings and mediated settlements statistics. These trickle down effects will soon dry up if Mothers perceive the courts will give them a better custody deal. The fish rots at the head.

In my opinion the existing legislation is sufficient to provide the intent and mechanisms for shared parenting. These might be reinforced by:

1. emphasising equal shared care

2. defining meaningful relationship beyond the 2 week schedule

3. defining parallel parenting

4. criminalising false allegations and false denials

There seems little point in legislative reform if the judiciary will not enact it. More effective reform might be academic tenure and new blood.

For subsequent article

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For another article

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