WHERE it is possible and good for the kids, shared parenting is worth fighting for.


Children have a right to be brought up by both parents. This means dads should have the same rights as mums. Source: HWT Image Library

Two of Australia’s leading law experts last week questioned the value of shared parenting.

The presumption of shared parenting was brought in by the Howard government in 2006.

It means that judges deciding custody cases in the Family Court have to start with a presumption that the kids will be cared for by both parents unless there is a good reason otherwise.

Now, the 2006 changes haven’t necessarily meant that men have had more time with their kids: shared parenting doesn’t mean equal parenting.

It just means there is an equal responsibility for the children.

And, in fact, many men’s advocates have been disappointed that the reality of shared care hasn’t always matched the ideal.

But I would argue it’s an important position for us to have as a society.

For too long mothers have had automatic right to sole custody while loving, good fathers have had to fight tooth and nail to get more than every second weekend with their own kids.

Where it is logistically possible and good for the kids, shared parenting should always be the standard to which courts and counsellors aspire.

Children have a right to be brought up by both parents. This means dads should have the same rights as mums.

It is an absolute tragedy that one in four kids from divorced and separated families sees one parent less than once a year, or never.

Sure, some of this may be the result of the media’s favourite target – the “deadbeat dad” who just isn’t interested. But you have to bet that in lots of cases men struggled like hell to see their kids regularly, but gave up because they felt they were treated like second-class citizens because they were dads and not mums.

Just because a man leaves a marriage, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s leaving his kids as well.

In some instances, shared custody doesn’t work. It is best where both parents live nearby, where they get along well and in cases where they did jointly raise the kids together at one time.

Shared custody should always be in the best interests of the children and not just the parents. This shouldn’t mean, however, that dads don’t have any rights at all.

But there is growing pressure on the federal Attorney-General to remove the shared parenting presumption in the Family Court.

Last week Monash University professor Nahum Mushin, who sat on the Family Court for 21 years, questioned the notion, saying it had “created a false expectation in the minds of some parents”.

Speaking at the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference in Melbourne, Prof Mushin said it limited the court’s discretion too much and “should be a general policy rather than a default position”.

He said it should be more about the quality of time rather than the quantity.

But how can you get quality time if you don’t have quantity time?

University of Sydney professor Patrick Parkinson also questioned the presumption of shared parenting, saying it “only works if both parents live closely together and there is co-operation”.

However, though it might make judges’ work more difficult, it is an important principle that we should not move away from.

The problem, it seems, is that the cases that end up in the Family Court are the very ones where shared custody doesn’t work.

Researchers at Melbourne University Law School looked at what kids had to say about shared parenting.

They found the best outcomes were where children had good relationships with both parents, and parents were co-operatively sharing the parenting.

In the end, both parents have a right to raise their children, but it is not an absolute right in every case. Both parents must ensure that the needs of the children come first, and they must minimise conflict with their former partners and work co-operatively.

The rights of parents to shared parenting are worthless if it makes the lives of their children a total nightmare.

But shared parenting is still the gold standard we should work towards. END

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