The week ahead 1 – Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Bill

This legislation deals with, among other things, the issue of family law determinations on the residency arrangements for children in the event of separation or divorce of the parents. This issue is understandably very contentious. The legislation is the result of a number of inquiries, drafts and recommendations, and there have been changes all along the way.

There was a final review done by a Senate Committee. The report was tabled at the end of last week, late on the Friday. You can access the report, as well as the submissions and transcript of the public hearing, through the Committee�-?s website by clicking here.

The Committee report contains 15 recommendations, most of which were supported by Senators from both the major parties. I�-?m not sure how likely the government is to accept these, given they have scheduled debate to begin so soon after the Committee report has been tabled. The Democrats and Greens put forward some extra suggested amendments. Although the Family First Senator didn�-?t attend the hearing, he has put in his own statements recommending the �-�rebuttable presumption of equal parenting time, or joint residency for children�-?. This is the position that the father�-?s rights groups have been putting very strongly for some time.

Because it is a topic and situation which touches many people so strongly, I try not to use overly strong language when discussing it. I can understand the trauma of those parents who have little or no contact with their children, and have received many emails which clearly show the deep hurt this causes.

However, I just cannot comprehend how it could be seen to be in the best interests of a child for the starting assumption to be that splitting that child�-?s living arrangements 50-50 between two parents is the best way to go. It may suit one or even both of the parents, but for a child or children to be shuttled between two houses on a 50-50 basis would be very disruptive in the majority of situations.

UPDATE:
You can read my 2nd Reading speech on the Bill by clicking here.

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80 Comments

  1. excuse me – I do not doctor comments. I have very occasionally removed lines that are extremely abusive or inflammatory (about others, not about me). I certainly wouldn’t delete something if the effect was to make it ruder.

  2. Jane
    Thankyou for your reply to a difficult question.
    Hoqwever you have mis understood it to some degree.
    Not all parents are [perfect
    Also you jumped to the conclusion this mother was saying over my dead body to the children etc Wrong very wrong
    She just tells them that daddy loves them and would make daddy sad not to hear from them

    [ Thats to them] Then she tells him over her dead body is he exposing that by having the children stay with the boyfriend weekends.
    Its is her who want him to see them with the boyfriend
    He is refusing .
    The older one said he is so ashamed and he is withdrawn and angry.

    However my question was one of legality?
    Are family first supporting this new policy for gays as well as straight couples.?

    After all as you said whats wrong with it.
    /
    Could somebody please ask them?

    People need to know these things before votes are counted not after.
    She does not want to be forced to be made to send them with the boyfriend for weekendsbut scared she will loose her benefits if she refuses.
    She just wants to know her legal right as far as family first see it.
    So the question was are these new laws of familys first for everybody?
    Or are they just for Church going heterosexuals?

    Again Thankyou

  3. Evil P
    Men are stronger and more aggresive as a matter of record. If you look at assualts bank robberies muders war ,rape you will find that is the case.
    Women on the other hand are more vishious sceaming dishonest and manitplitive .

    Great world isnt it.

    You are one hundred percent right about the courts lawyers
    Take it out of the federal Courts and put it back to the peoples court
    Us the police to v visit the mother or father if they do not comply
    Arrest them
    Good luck

  4. Evil Pundit shows himself to be a very bitter, twisted man. Perhaps he should examine his own conscience before damning every woman who has gone through divorce. They are not all tarred with the one brush, Evil.

    In all these posts, there is little respect for the wishes of children. No parent has the right to disregard the feelings of a child or children in these matters. A person close to me, was abandoned by her husband who claimed to be tired of married life and wished to take six months away from his wife and three young children “to find himself”. He gave no thought to what his sudden absence would do to his children, nor to the fact that he failed to contribute to their support during that time. There was no prior drama that would explain his decision, other than his discontent with the responsibility of fatherhood. He just left them to fend for themselves while he reverted to bachelor status. In this instance, the wife was left to manage a property, be a sole parent etc. etc., and find a way through the trauma. Not surprisingly, they agreed to amicable divorce. They also agreed to cooperate with keeping the children the focal point of their consideration, and the wife did just that. The husband continued along his chosen path and subsequently re-married, and now has a child.

    He is quite inconsistent in his dealings with his children and frequently fails to keep appointments with them that he, himself, has arranged. This tends to lead them to believe they are not important to him. It is not to be wondered that they have lost respect for him in the process. Despite this, the mother does not ever consider depriving him of access visits, but simply wishes he would not use his access time to denigrate her to them, nor to simply leave them in the care of their step-mother while he continues to “do his thing”. All they want is for him to spend time with THEM. He also regularly fails to contribute the agreed child support. Do you wonder why they are now reluctant to make these access visits?

    Every case is different, but it must be paramount that the children, once they are of an age to decide for themselves, be free to choose where they would prefer to be, and be respected. Otherwise, it leaves them to believe that their wishes do not count at all.

  5. Betty

    Evil p
    May have good reason to be bitter. Some dads live for their kids but are denied visits for such things as having a new girldriend or any other amount of things. you know the old> I am not letting my kids spend time with that B etc etc.

    People are not born bitter and twistered. They are made that way/ More often than not it is the mum that gets the raw end of the stick but some dads do it real hard as well. Maybe EP requires some understanding.
    I do not think young kids should tell mum and dad whats going to happen. I am very opposed to that. I also think kids today by large are spoilt little brats. The compertion between the two houses ought to teach the kids to play off one parent against the other even more.
    I think the idea stinks

  6. Your right Betty, every case is different. The system tries to treat every case the same and as a result people suffer.

    Most importantly of course the children suffer. Adults should always stop to listen to and consider the children’s feelings and views. Children are so knowing and understanding and a vast majority know what is best for them, at the time! If the child is sincere, their wishes should be respected. When children feel positively included and involved in what is happening to them it makes it easier for them to cope.

    Standing on the sidelines is very scary.

  7. EP- we all have a ‘story’ and I am certain that many of us could with some justification become as angry, resentful and embittered as you seem to be about family law and the separation process.

    What are you going to actually do to change things aside from ranting about those awful creatures- feminists?

    I do hope that if you have contact with children you are able to put aside your own ‘strong’ opinions and simply allow them to enjoy being with you.

  8. Hello Andrew

    Could you please tell me just what is happening in the Senate regarding the proposed family law act amendment ?

  9. Olivia

    The Government’s legislation is being debated as I post this comment. The Family First amendment (atuomatic presumption of 50-50 shared care) will fail. No non-government amendments will be accepted – which is virtually automatic these days.

    There are some government amendments which will be added. I don’t have primary carriage of the legislation for the Democrats, so I’m not across the full detail of what changes are involved with the government amendments, but I don’t expect they will produce a dramatic shift.

    Probably best at this stage to refer back to the Senate Committee report for an overview of the overall content of the legislation.

  10. Well Andrew the vote’s been taken and you were right about the defeat of the presumption of equal care, but something that seems to have only been touched upon lightly above is that, this was only ever a starting point. It was always anticipated that where proven problems of abuse or violence existed 50/50 would NOT be invoked.

    I have my kids about 47% of the time and the Courts offered me 50/50, the system as it exists now can work. However I’m fortunate enough to be a member of ‘the club’, I have a supportive family and friends, went to a private school, received good grades, went to uni, have a good job, wear a suit and tie to work, speak well… The court served the needs of my children and of myself because I could work to make sure it did, not because that was the automatic presumption. I implore you all, please, consider the position of a father who cares for, loves, treats his children just as well or as much as I do, but who has none of those advantages who looks scruffy, left school early, has no money and no support, who doesn’t express himself well verbally, who is overwhelmed with stress and anxiety and the fear that his children will be taken away from him. He has already lost his wife, his marriage and now, too often, he is about to lose the rest of his family, the most important things in his life, the essence of what defines him as who he is – his children. People go to war and die to protect their families and far too often in Australia they are simply taken away by a flawed legal system. He and his children relied on the people voting on this Bill to make sure that they continue to enjoy and grow in close personal contact not by phone or e-mail or letter or video, they need each other and they may well HAVE TO rely on a presumption of equal parenting at some point because there is no way that they are going to be able to successfully fight for it on their own behalf. Why should that relationship be relegated to second place? Poll results over the past 4-5 years show that an overwhelming majority of Australians believe it shouldn’t be! But once again the Democrats have shown how out of touch they are with the mainstream and why they are ceasing to be a credible voice in politics.

  11. Whether someone belongs to ‘the club’ is irrelevant to me.

    I am only concerned about the difficulty of ‘proving’ violence in a relationship which could place children at risk.

  12. Anyone with an inkling of knowldeg about child abuse would know it is far more prevalent in intact, families and perpetrated by family memebers (princiapally male) and not, as a result of seperation, or as on the other post, people hiding behind churches, schools or the lcoal scout group.

    Those types get the easy publciity becasue the family secrest are sacrosanct.

  13. Ken, you are completely wrong about child abuse.

    In fact, it is mothers who are the predominant abusers — presumably because they spend the most time with children.

    Second in rank are non-parental males living with single mothers. Only after that do fathers in stable relationships come in.

    It is clear that, among other things, the divorce industry exacerbates the problems of child abuse.

  14. EP – Sorry meant child sexual abuse – which is what they are talking about. Emotioanl and Physiacal is spread across all – as you say.

  15. I don’t think it helps pointing fingers in relation to who abuses children more!. Child abuse, including psychological abuse and assault is reaching epidemic proportions. The fact is that there are an alarming amount of children being abused and it isn’t limited to separating couples.

    The first question that has to be asked is: “Why is the system unable to protect these children from the abuse and why are the procedures that are in place to identify abusers and to ensure that the children are protected not working?”.

    Part of the problem is that the guidelines the system uses in order to identify abuse for investigation and action are very narrow and target only allegations of repeated sustained maltreatment of children that results in serious repercussions for the child. So basically a child has to be dead or on their death bed holding a written confession before the complaint even falls under the Jurisdiction in order to be looked into.

    It seems that the system is unable to cope at ‘prevention level’ and only goes into action when a child dies or is on their death bed.

    The issue of abuse should not be mixed up with the issue of parenting arrangements for couples that are divorcing. Each matter should be assessed on its merits.

    Personally I think the matter about “the club” that Phil talks about is relevant. Parents shouldn’t have to fight for the right to have access to their own children and it shouldn’t be dependant on how much money you have or who you know!

  16. As people are speaking of the issue of child sexual abuse, thank you Andrew for putting forward the motion in the senate yesterday, calling on all politicians to work together and with all levels of government to develop a national strategy on child sexual assault, and well done on getting it agreed to.

  17. EP

    Could you please provide a link to the statistical evidence where you obtained the information you give in your comment above (#63)? Or at least the reference?

  18. If we take away the façade of a number of non-custodial parents wanting contact and replace it with the reality of many of them not wanting to pay maintenance/child support to the residential parent, we might start to see a different aspect of why some non-custodial parents put themselves and their wants and demands before the needs of their child/children.

    Why should a child have to live a fragmented and disrupted life just to appease the petty demands of a bitter parent, grandparent or other person who wants to have their share of the child, unless the child has an express wish to do so.

    This should not be about what the mother or the father wants or demands, but what is in the best interest of the child and what fulfills their needs.

    Even in antiquity Solomon had the wisdom to realise that a child cannot be divided in two.

  19. Andrew, I agree with your comments on 50/50 parenting. Children need one stable environment in which to grow up. Any School Principal would support this.

    Absent parents (male or female) are generally more committed to their new partners/home/social life than they are to their children.

    I think John Howard’s primary agenda is to get ALL of the adults out to work, leaving children without ANY parents – being fully raised in institutional environments.

    Reducing child support payments for absent parents (primarily men) is a secondary agenda, which also supports the primary agenda of getting ALL women out into the workforce.

    With John Howard’s new work requirements for sole parents, I can understand that some career women/men may wish to receive further parenting support from their ex-partner.

    I have been doing all of the parenting myself for 8 years because my ex-husband provided a dangerous and unsuitable environment for our child – incurring more of the financial costs and personal sacrifices myself to ensure our child is not returned to me in a body bag.

    The Family Court needs to get tough on irresponsible parents (absent or residential), instead of ignoring bad behaviour with their naive “pie in the sky” money saving attitude.

    It’s quite clear to me that John Howard is primarily interested in serving the interests of rich men (and employers), while cutting the welfare budget down to the bone. He doesn’t care about children at all.

    In regard to Child Support payments, by the time absent parents’ tax deductions and allowances for their own living costs are taken into account, the percentage of income paid for one child is far less than 18%. I think it may actually be more in the order of 10-12% – could be a lot less in some cases.

    If it’s too costly for the government to assess parenting arrangements and child support payments case by case, perhaps they could try using a few broad categories. While not ideal, it would be better than the current fiasco.

    If John Howard continues to follow the lead of George Bush without thinking about the consequences, we are headed towards the same social disaster created in the USA.

  20. Ken, you are right about child sexual abuse.

    It’s a problem with the terminology — it’s difficult to tell sometimes whether the phrase “child abuse” is being used to refer to Physical abuse, sexual abuse, or both.

  21. How can those who dont even consider “presumption of equal parenting time” as a starting point accept to share children willingly.

    Good mothers live with husband and build a harmonious life for thier children. Their are som genuinely responsible mothers who deserve support.

    The law is about majority of women who have proved otherwise. A lot have very little concern for children and this becomes further convluted with the money mothers make by holding on to the children.

    Childrens need their fathers.

    Having 50-50 as starting point will disuade opportunitistic divorce profiteers and money makers. It is necessary for protection of families.

  22. Premsai. You are so right when you say:

    “How can those who dont even consider “presumption of equal parenting time” as a starting point accept to share children willingly”

    I agree that children do need their fathers. I also believe that fathers and mothers shouldn’t be judged too harshly on their attitude whilst they were unhappily married. When you are living in an environment that is not happy or hostile it influences everything about you and affects your actions and reactions.

    Starting at a point when you put your differences and relationship issues behind you and work together for the best interest of the child’s wellbeing, who of course wants to be with both parents, is the best way forward.

    Of course the child’s wishes should always come into play and be respected and, if there is a case of abuse or violence from the father or mother towards the children it has to be taken into consideration, monitored and looked into.

    It just seems so much fairer to me.

  23. Jolanda

    With all due respect, I find your posts naive.
    As much as you consider yourself informed and knowledgeable on divorce and family law matters, your comments demonstrate that you have a simplistic understanding of the complexities of divorce.

    As many of the posts here have revealed, there are those divorced couples that work out their arrangements without the need for intervention. And in those cases, that make up for the vast majority of divorced families, the fathers may or may not care equally for their child depending on their circumstances and decision to be involved with their children. And these families pretty much go under the radar for that reason.

    However, for that small percentage of divorced couples that require a court to make a decision on their behalf, a simplistic generic law claiming ‘children need their fathers equally’ is not appropriate.

    For some reason it appears to be women in secure marriages that naively champion this notion of equal time for men …. all men …. men they’ve never met and know nothing of. Men that they truly want to believe are victims to some unscrupulous woman, and that their children are suffering due to not being in their fathers households ‘equally’.

    There are outstanding men out there who make wonderful husbands. There are outstanding married and divorced men out there who make wonderful fathers. I see it every day. And I suppose Jolanda, you are married to one of them. However, that does not make you an expert on marriage or parenting or what is in the ‘best interests’ of children whose parents are going through the courts.

    Count yoursef lucky you’ve got such a great marriage and that you have been so compatible with your childrens father. But please cut out the lectures for those of us that were not as fortunate.

    The last thing we need to hear is an uninformed do-gooder championing a cause they are ill-informed on.

  24. Donna. I said I wouldn’t have a rest from posting but I have to respond to this.

    I never said that they should have equal time, I said that they should start working out the arrangements with a presumption of equal parenting time as that means equal rights and doesn’t give power to one parent over the other.

    I never said I was knowledgeable and informed I said I was happily married but from my experiences watching family and friends who have separated I came to the following impressions. That does not make me an expert and that does not make me naive. Its just my opinion, I never said I had any qualifications in this field . I am not championing anything, just stating my view and opinion. Just like you are yours on a blog, that is what this blog is for. There is no need to try to discredit my opinion and me in the manner that you have. We are all entitled to our opinion and it should be respected.

    Of course there are divorced couples that come to agreements on their own but there is a large proportion that dont do it amicably and that affects the children. Those are the ones we are talking about here as the others wouldn’t have a problem with these laws as they would come to agreements.

    If you would have read my posts with an open mind you would have seen that I have said many times that I believe that circumstances must always be taken into consideration and that the child’s feelings and wishes should be respected.

    My great marriage has nothing to do with luck. My husband and I make a point to ensure that we respect each other and that we treat each other well and that the best interest of the children is always our paramount concern.

  25. ‘I never said that they should have equal time, I said that they should start working out the arrangements with a presumption of equal parenting time as that means equal rights and doesn’t give power to one parent over the other’

    This is what I’m talking about Jolanda. It’s not about the parents ‘rights’ or ‘power’ … it’s about what’s best for the children. And believe it or not Jolanda, you do not know what is best for children in these circumstances. And your simplistic response of ‘equal rights’ demonstrates that.

    And yes, you were lucky when it came to your marriage. Anyone who has a successful marriage may not have had such a successful marriage with another person. You were lucky that you married someone who has the ability to sustain a relationship through simple demonstrations of respect. A lot of individuals have to live day in day out with a partner who has no concept of treating their spouses with respect.

    You are going beyond just an opinion. You are being quite lecturious, if that happens to be a word.

    I apologise for my blunt response. However, I find it extremely intolerable having to read an uninformed opinion from a woman in a secure marriage with a supportive husband.

    Your observations, unless you have lived in a household with a family for a number of years, would give you absolutely no concept of what goes on once a family is at home with no one around to ‘observe’ patterns of behaviour.

    And I will say you have been championing an ideology because it’s not just one blog on here. Your posts on the topic are numerous.

  26. I might be married happily but I am neither deaf nor blind. I am not living in a bubble and I am certainly not stupid. I can see what is happening and why.

    Yes, it is often about power and rights, thats the problem! Often parents when they are in this situation get caught up in being right and get caught up in placing blame and wanting others, including the children, to take sides and they are so consumed by it that they dont really consider how it affects the children.

    I dont have to be divorced to understand or to have experience regarding what children need or want, their needs are pretty basic. I was a child once and my parents ended up divorcing. Sure they waited until we were older to actually do it, for the sake of the children, but I have lived in a household where there were issues and I experienced first hand how parents get caught up in their own issues and how they drag the children into it and how it makes the children feel.

    Children need the parents to stop arguing and fighting and to do what is in the best interest of the child. Children need to see that both parents respect each others role and position in their capacity as parents.

    If you read what I say as more than an opinion, then that is your problem – not mine. I have said it many times, it is my opinion. Yes I have alot of opinions on alot of subjects especially when it relates to children but that is because my family have been through alot and my four children have been from tiny, and two are teenagers now, highly articulate and verbal and we have a very open relationship and they have always explained to me how they feel and what they think about what is happening to them and what is happening to those around them and why.

    I find it extremely intolerable to have to read a response from a woman who thinks that just because I havent been divorced that I am just lucky and that I do not have a right to have an opinion or an idea on the subject of what is in the best interest of the children when it comes to separation.

    You would think that ‘equal rights’ would be the best starting point yet some people seem so hostile towards it.

  27. Oh, and Donna on my side of the family the vast majority have divorced and they have children! My child, my nieces and nephews, my friends children, other people’s children – all the same to me. They are all our children.

  28. Oh and its off post but just another reason why terminations really are between her Dr and herself.. Whatever people like to say its the mother nine times out of ten who cops the whole resposibility while dad often re marries and has a whole new family. No its not fair but its a fact of life[often]So if you have children they had best be because you want them for life regardless or not if dad sticks around. Men who want more contact with their children should be encourgared however and it should be a serious offence not to make the children available as agreed by courst. I dont blame the men who have taken the time and interest and spent a fortune to go though family court getting cranky and they need support.
    Speaking of family first I was always of the view that Church had no place in politics. However time changes everything. Now considering the Governments policy is for woman to have more children where does that leave wife number one with four kids while the Government encourage wife number two to go to work but have another three or four children.Then of course have the first three or four children from her partners first marriage as well? Put in that light you have got to feel for wife number two and the dads. The whole idea was for marriage vows to be upheld and now thats no longer important to many I guess its down hill from here. It is impossibly to make a law that suits every person so it must be arranged through everybody> and I do mean everybody. You just can not dicate to second partners when and when not or how they are going to live their lives either but nobody even stops to think about that. Unless they do children suffer again.

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