Mums and dads would have their parenting skills tested by independent experts in custody battles under a new suggestion.
The federal government is reviewing the family law system.
Mothers and fathers going through the Family Court should have their parental skills assessed to make sure they are suitable carers for their children, an expert says.
Professor Daryl Higgins from the Australian Catholic University said the prime focus should be on the safety and wellbeing of the child rather than the automatic right of the parent to have access or custody.
“There should be a separate independent assessment of parenting capability looking at the skills parents have and their attachment processes, with highly qualified experts interviewing parents and children and seeing them in context,” Professor Higgins said.
He said the majority of cases that came to court involved allegations of neglect, violence or abuse and there were serious concerns about the welfare and safety of the child.
Independent experts should be used to assess parenting skills under a suggestion.
There is a risk of family violence in 80 per cent of parenting disputes before the court, and a risk of child abuse in 70 per cent of matters, court figures show.
The suggestion of a parental skill assessment comes as the Federal Government moves to overhaul the family law system and remove the presumption of equal parenting responsibility which says both parents must be consulted about major, long-term decisions for a child.
While Professor Higgins said he supported the government’s reform push, its efforts did not go far enough.
“It’s not going to the heart of the problem — the changes still prioritise the need of mothers rather than the needs and rights of the children,” he said.
“The arrangements are mostly arrived at privately and the system does not support the independent investigation of risk.
Experts say the rights of the child should be the focus of the family law system.
“It usually comes down to who can purchase the best lawyer or the best psychological advice. The system is not fit for purpose.
“Parents end up proving the other party is unfit rather than an external assessment with the power of the state behind it.”
Sue Price, director of the Men’s Rights Agency, welcomed the idea of a parental skills assessment “if it was going to get the root of the problem and was going to put both parents on an equal level”.
“For too long that has been an assumption that children are better off with their mothers and dad should be a weekend parent and a babysitter,” Ms Price said.
“Fathers should be innocent instead of proven guilty, not the other way around.”