Reference source: Age ArticleA REVOLUTIONARY new Family Court system to deal with disputes has resulted in happier children and parents, according to a Melbourne researcher Karen Kissane.
Jennifer McIntosh, associate professor of child psychology at La Trobe University and director of a divorce mediation clinic, found that parents who had gone through the new system argued less over sharing the children, and the children emerged happier than those whose cases were processed in the traditional, adversarial way.The new process, in which parents talk directly to the judge and are encouraged to focus on their children's future, has been adopted for all child cases filed after July 1 last year. It can also be used by partners in property cases if they wish.
There was far more acceptance of the importance of both parents in the child's life and far more respectful communication going on between the parents, and fewer out-of-control moments, she said.
Professor McIntosh studied 38 families where disputes over children were settled under the adversarial system the court has used for most of its existence, in which parties oppose each other and speak through lawyers.
She compared them with 50 families who went through a pilot program in Sydney for less adversarial trial; in which the parents talked directly to the judge without having to worry about the rules of evidence.
In Sydney tomorrow, Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant will launch a report called Finding a Better Way, documenting this bold departure from the traditional common-law approach.
Professor McIntosh found that fathers who had gone through the pilot program reported significantly more contact with their children: only 18 per cent rarely or never had overnight care, compared with 30 per cent of fathers in the old system.
Twenty-one per cent of mothers in the old system had little or no overnight care compared with only 2 per cent in the new system.
Neither group was lavish in its praise of the court system, but more parents in the old system (70 per cent compared to 28 per cent) felt the process had a negative effect on them as parents.
Reported one father who had gone through the new system… In regards to mother, instead of impulsively reacting to me, she listens now. I think she was listened to in there, so she could listen to me too.
Professor McIntosh said she was surprised to discover the most important mechanism for change was the way in which the judge gave parents a role model for thinking about the children first. Their capacity for thinking like parents was restored, and for some there was even an increased positive regard for the other partner. That's got to be a good outcome for children.
Three months after divorcing, the parents said their children were significantly happier than the parents in the old system. They also had less conflict with their ex-partner and more positive views about how often the partner saw the children.
The view of the judge was positive for 69 per cent of parents, who used words such as fair, supportive, wise, eased the confusion, listened, amazing;. Ninety-two per cent of the group who had gone through the old system reported negatively on the judge: Biased, unduly critical/harsh, unfair, naive, ignoring, omnipotent, inconsistent
The study concluded: A loss in judicial impartiality amounted to a clear gain for many parents, who were more often reached, moved and inspired by a judge who entered their struggle.