FULL REPORT RELEASED: Independent Study of Australia's Independent Children's Lawyers
Release of the Family Law Express Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) study: Full Report – released 13th November, 2015 In contrast to the generally positive findings of the Australian Government’s 2013 AIFS Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) Study, the findings of the Family Law Express Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) study entitled “Neither Seen Nor Heard: Australia’s Child Protection Conundrum” has exposed the undeniably arduous state of current ICL practice in this country.
Independent Children's Lawyer Survey - Your Feedback needed
This is the reason why an independent report is so crucial.
The government review is nothing other than the government patting itself on the back. The reality is that ICLs are universally condemned for being unprepared, ideologues who became ICLs not because of their goal of representing children, but because they couldn't get a job as a lawyer elsewhere, or because they were farmed out by the many women's legal centres who swell the ranks directly by funelling women members into these roles.
I started to read the report on ICL mentioned on the AIFS website, what a load of codswollop it is, that report.
Independent Children's Lawyer Survey - Your Feedback needed
If you are one of the many fathers who believe that they have been discriminated against by a Court appointed ICL (Independent Childrens Lawyers) during child custody proceedings, simply because of your gender, well these family law researchers want to hear from you.
It's been over a month since my final hearing, so now may be a good time to do a short write up.
As a background, I have one child, a 6.5 year old boy, and I had never married nor been domecile with the mother. However I spent substantial time with the mother at her residence, and I have been significantly and meaningfully involved in every aspect of my child's life in an unbroken manner since the beginning.
After separation and upon initiation of proceedings, I sought 5 days out of 14 and continued with this stance through-out. The reason for this, as I explained to the Court, was the distance issue (I live 40 mins from child's school), and secondly, I was of the belief that the mother would not cope with 50:50, and I felt that this would ultimately harm the child.
Before I go on, I should mention the contrasting approaches to the proceedings between the mother and myself, which I believe had a very real impact on the final outcome.
My efforts were very much non-personal and non-emotional, at least on the face of it, and I was in full recognition that the mother, despite her personal flaws, was a very devoted and loving mother. The mother for her part focussed exclusively on vilifying me. Her affidavit was hate-instilled, and her allegations were of the most sinister type.
Interestingly, we both had support people/groups. I was lucky enough to have had the support of key people from this site, which I will elaborate on further down. The mother, as I had become aware, was supported by an anti-domestic violence group and a barrister who volunteered her services on a pro-bono basis, at the request of that group.
Just by referring to an "anti-domestic violence group", I expect those who are reading this will feel, even in a sub-conscious way, that where there is smoke there must be fire. I know that this is what I would be thinking was I reading this for the first time. Surely if such a group got involved, something violent or at least somewhat threatening must have happened, right? WRONG!
I don't know whether my situation is the norm or not, but we separated very amicably, there was never any violence nor any threat of violence, and there never will be. There were no police, no AVO's, no scratches, no questionable injuries, no threatening letters or emails or texts, NOTHING! And yet …….
During proceedings, I remember thinking how much the mother had been betrayed by this group that purported to support her, yet was simply exploiting a vulnerable but complicit woman to promote their own self-fulfilling agenda. I still to this day believe that if the mother was properly encouraged to co-operate from the outset, we would not have ended up in Court, and the damaging events that occured in the midst of Court (including to our child) would not be part of our baggage today.
But it is not only this anti-domestic violence group that had encouraged the mother into a ferver of anti-father/anti-shared care hysteria. I was in fact left mortified at the "buy-in" of so many family law support insitutions to this notion that I, as a separated father, must unquestionably be a vilain. This included an FRC- Family Advisor who convinced the mother not to negotiate any shared care with me (because its bad for kids), and amongst others, the independant children's lawyer, who stated that she would never agree to the child having any overnight time with me because "its just not healthy for a 6 y/o child to be away from his mother", and because "it would reduce the mother's child support." I would also add that the mother included anti-shared care articles from Adele Horin (Sydney Morning Herald) in her affidavit, which I am sure the mother saw as validation of her stance, and simply emboldened her to continue to resist any form of shared care arrangement with me.
Well, my hope was not to go to final hearing, but whatever hapenned I thought it best that I get Consent Orders.
Given the question-mark over the longevity of the current shared care laws, I knew that Orders by Consent were my best bet at maintaining an arrangement after any potential changes to the law. Although I am fully aware that 'significant change' would still be likely to be required to undo existing Orders, I was looking at the strongest outcome for the future under any circumstances, and that I thought would be it.
Before we reached the point where our final hearing was imminent, I made an offer to the mother in the hope of avoiding Court, but this was not to be. No movement from her at all.
So we went to Court. When I sat in the witness box at the beginning of the hearing, I remember saying the oath, and the Federal Magistrate looked at me squarely in my eyes in a fixed gaze. I felt strangely comfortable in this environment, and at the FM's gaze. I can't be certain why, but I knew that I had nothing to hide, I was making no bizarre allegations, I was not trying to shut anyone out of the child's life, I simply wanted my boy to have a real relationship with his daddy, as was the case before. I felt that this is what the new laws promoted, and this is really what helped me through this, a belief that the Court now, unlike the other support institutions, was guided by a good set of laws, not a gender based ideology.
Anyway, the immediate direction the hearing took was a surprise to me, to the extent that it was so overwhelming. Not only was it quickly clear that I would get 5 days out of 14, but the Federal Magistrate agitated for me to accept 50:50. This was based on him seeing no credible reason why I should not, given the abundance of evidence of my very involved and close relationship with the child. I suspect my accomodating and supporting attitude towards the mother, as well as a distinct lack of any evidence of abuse whatsoever, also made an impact.
The mother's barrister's line of questioining however, in line with the mother's affidavit, was ill-conceived, spiteful and quite surprising in its lack of legal emphasis. It reflected very poorly on both the barrister herself and the mother.
After repeated warnings to the mother's barrister, the Federal Magistrate finally halted proceedings and said to the mother's barrister words to the effect, "I take it that your ongoing line of questioning is at the instigation of the mother. As such, as a matter of procedural fairness I am warning you that I will now be seriously considering the giving of primary care of the child to the father, despite it not being requested."
The FM's very strongly worded comment about sole care was enough to finally encourage the mother to agree to Consent Orders.
Looking back on this journey now, I can see that it was probably my restraint more than anything else that won me the confidence of the Federal Magistrate. I was accused of the most serious crime a father can be accused of, and at times I felt at risk of over-reacting, either by retorting with allegations too, or in somehow giving up or otherwise harming myself.
But these laws, the laws so zeoulously condemned by many in the media, helped me focus on what I had in common with the mother of my child, not the differences. It helped me focus on our child, not our feelings. It helped me focus on being constructive, not of character assasination. It helped me put aside those allegations, serious as they were, and move on for the child's benefit.
Were it not for the shared care laws, I have no doubt that despite my history of being meaningfully involved in every aspect of my child's life, that my little boy would today be deprived of having a father. These laws created an environment where co-operation was possible, I simply took advantage of it.
I finish this of by saying that I have no ill-feelings towards the mother. In fact, a few nights ago we both spent more than 4 hours in the casualty section of hospital, waiting for our son to be seen for an ear-ache. We were both there, we both held our child as he fell asleep, and we both chatted together like old friends. This outcome is good for our son, it is good for me, and despite the remarkable resistance displayed by the mother, it is good for her too.
On a final note and as possible assistance to others, I was an SRL up until the final weeks prior to my final hearing. At this point I entered into a minimal brief arrangement with a lawyer and barrister. This was because no barrister would agree to direct brief. This may be a very cost-effective model for other SRLs to follow, should the expertise of a barrister be needed come final hearing.
In closing, I would like to thank a number of very special people from this site, who selflessly gave for the ultimate benefit of my child.
Verdad, you always kept my focus on my child, not my feelings. Your mantra was clear, and you left a real impression on my proceedings. Thanks for your wisom and your help with the written word. Agog, you were there from the start. I have called you many times in a panic asking you questions on points of law. Thank you for your consistently steady hand in these matters. Mr Secretary, you will probably never get the recognition you really deserve, but I appreciate the efforts you made for me, all beyond the call of duty I may add. Monaro, your case alone has been powerful inspiration for me, especially after my Interim Hearing. Thanks for giving when I called for help. Many thanks as well to Monteverdi, OneDadC, 4MyDaughter, MikeT, Artemis and to the many others who I have relied upon.
School Holiday definition?: Another question on school holidays
I too have a question related to school holidays. We have just finished the April school holidays in NSW, which compromised a total of 3 weekends.
This has resulted in some confusion between the mother and I as to who gets the next weekend after the school holidays have finished.
I took it to be a simple case of marking every second weekend off on the calendar for the whole year, and I took it for granted that those weekend that I marked would be mine except when we have school holidays.
The mother believes that the non-school holiday routine is suspended during school holidays, and re-activated as soon as the school holidays are finished.
Although the mother's belief has some logic to it, it means that my weekends (which were on odd weeks) suddenly change to even weeks.
Now I have read and re-read our Orders and it makes no mention of suspending the routine during school holidays, so this seems to be a grey area.
I am happy to agree to the mother's request in this matter, because at the end of the day the net effect is zero, but I would like to get an understanding as to what the standard is (if any) in this area.
Does anyone know if there is a standard here, or does it completely depend on how both parent's wish to arrange it?
Again, I am not looking to argue this point with the mother, but I am simply trying to understand how most other parents treat this scenario. Thanks
* Will the court see the 40mins travel for 5, 6 & 8 y.o children as reasonable?
Well, there is no specific formula to calculate what amount of time for travel is reasonable and what is not, however whatever the outcome is, the judge or FM must balance out the negatives of longer drives to school with the benefits of more meaningul interaction with the father.
All this must then be viewed amongst everything else, and a decision must be arrived at from all pertinent information considered.
In my review of this very same issue, I have received advice from a barrister stating that a 40+ minute drive is for the most part a non issue, given that most children who catch the bus or train to school would travel at least this amount of time and maybe more, and given the alternative which is 2/14, which is increasingly been seen as a very bad outcome for children.
If you read the judgment by Brown FM, he reviewed all circumstances & determined that a 40+ minute drive to school every alternate week was not unreasonable enough for him to rule against 50/50 shared care.