Controversy brews over social science, fathers and family law

Thursday 3 July 2014 12:37PM
Damien Carrick

The idea that children under four should not spend any nights away from their primary attachment figure is a hotly contested one in family law. So what does the research say, and how does social science affect Family Court disputes?Damien Carrick investigates.
When families separate, should children under four have overnight stays with the non-resident parent? Social science research plays a big role in family law disputes, and it also has a big influence in forming the public’s understanding. One of the most prominent voices in this space is English parenting guru Penelope Leach. In her new book, Family Breakdown, she says children can suffer damage if they have overnight stays with the non-resident parent.

We’re surprised by the amount of attention our study’s received, and the extent to which the findings have been mangled and misinterpreted, and I think the findings have been interpreted in a very black and white manner; they’ve been boiled down to a crude, divisive gender message: any overnights damage children.

To support her claim, Leach quotes 2010 Australian research. That report’s lead author is Jenny McIntosh, an adjunct professor at La Trobe University. She’s currently on leave, but one of her co-authors, ANU Associate Professor Bruce Smyth, does not believe that his work has been correctly represented in Leach’s new book.
‘I read the book last night, and one sentence leapt out at me,’ he says, ‘which is, “Findings strongly suggest that shared care that includes spending nights or even a single night at a time away from home and mother is seldom in the best interests of children under four years of age.” Our findings don’t show that, we never said that, so I’m not quite sure how you reach … for the Australian study to reach a conclusion like that.’
So, what does the McIntosh report say about overnight stays for children under four? Well, it seems that depends on who you talk to. Some leading experts aren’t surprised that Leach got the wrong end of the stick.
Judy Cashmore is a developmental psychologist and an associate professor in socio-legal research and policy at The University of Sydney. She’s is one of 110 expert signatories of the Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report, written by US Professor Richard Warshak.
Cashmore says the take-home message from the report is that there is no evidence to support the conclusion that children should not have overnight care with their father (or the absent parent) because it could be harmful. On this point, she thinks the 2010 McIntosh Report is equivocal.
‘That research was an Attorney General’s report based on the longitudinal study of 10,000 Australian children, but only a small proportion of those children were actually in separated families, so it’s not the 10,000 children but a much smaller group of children comparing those who had different arrangements.’
‘Basically what it was suggesting, using some of the measures that were not necessarily designed for that purpose, is that children were more distressed or more irritable if they were in shared or overnight stay arrangements with their fathers before the age of four, and that research has been challenged on the basis of the research design, the sampling and going beyond the conclusions or the data analysis.’
While at first brush this may appear to be an obscure tiff between academics, the issue resonates out from universities and into the hard-edged world of the Family Court. Social science research is used in decision-making and in negotiations involving care and responsibility arrangements for children.
Patrick Parkinson is professor of family law at Sydney University, and he’s also president of the International Society of Family Law. He and Cashmore are the joint authors of a just-published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and the Law titled, ‘The Use and Abuse of Social Science Evidence in Children’s Cases’.
‘Whatever Professor McIntosh has herself said, her work has been widely understood amongst family lawyers and their clients to represent a view that it is not wise to have young children spending overnight time with their fathers,’ says Parkinson. ‘So that’s been the take on it, but it’s important to emphasise that first of all, McIntosh herself hasn’t said that’s what her research shows. Secondly, the body of research doesn’t show that, so there’s been a misunderstanding of what that research says and what all the other research on this area shows us.’
Parkinson acknowledges that in the last few months, McIntosh has published a joint article with two leading experts in the United States, Joan Kelly and Marsha Pruett. He describes the article as ‘extremely helpful’ in clarifying that there is nothing inherently problematic about overnight stays with fathers. ‘We’ve got to look at each individual family,’ he says.
Bruce Smyth says he and his co-authors are surprised by the Warshak Consensus Report and the article by Parkinson and Cashmore.
‘We’re surprised by the amount of attention our study’s received, and the extent to which the findings have been mangled and misinterpreted, and I think the findings have been interpreted in a very black and white manner; they’ve been boiled down to a crude, divisive gender message: any overnights damage children.’
‘The truth is, we’re puzzled by this; we’re not sure why they’ve been interpreted this way and why they’ve been boiled down that way. Those who’ve actually read the original government report will know that we’ve never said that, and we’re surprised that no one’s picked up on the glass half-full message that once kids turn four, they’re actually able to cope with a variety of parenting arrangements.’
Smyth has strong views about the Warshak Consensus Report, which critiques the McIntosh Report.
‘A petition approach isn’t science,’ he says. ‘I’m not quite sure why Dr Warshak didn’t just publish the review and let it stand on its own two feet. There are question marks about whether the piece was peer reviewed, which is of some concern, and we have no idea how many people Dr Warshak wrote to, exactly which version they saw, whether they agreed or not.’
In contrast, Sydney lawyer Tom Reeve thinks the Warshak Consensus Report performs a useful role. Reeve, the partner in charge of family and immigration law at Marsdens Law Group, says that despite statements by McIntosh and Smyth, their 2010 report is often used by lawyers to argue against overnight stays for the under fours.
‘At the coal face of family law we’re not about to analyse and involve ourselves in a detailed discussion of how the data has driven particular conclusions in the report. You’re lucky to have practitioners who are au fait with the headnote. It’s a bit like the Gonski Report, everybody knows about it, but nobody’s read it.’
Yet lawyers are hired guns. They use whatever weapons they have, and that can include putting forward arguments on behalf of one client one day and then the next day, in the next courtroom, arguing the exact opposite. So don’t lawyers need to take some responsibility for the arguments?
Yes, yes, of course, and my comments make it sound like I’m only acting for people who have got “men have rights too” on t-shirts when they come into my office,’ says Reeve. ‘Of course the other half of the equation is that you’re very often going to be in a position where you want to use social research of that sort to assist the interests of your client, and if your client is a client who has a particular attitude towards overnight time and doesn’t want it, then social science that McIntosh was the author of previously was useful.’

Reeve says Penelope Leach’s book will have serious ramifications in family law.
‘It says to me that the job just got a bit harder when you represent the next father in court who wants to have time with an 18-month-old child, because you’re going to turn up at an interim hearing and you’re not going to have a family report writer there that you can ask any questions of or cross-examine.’
‘You won’t have a choice; you’ll be met with a particular judge who may or may not be in favour of a certain view, and you’ll be confronted with the comment, “well, doesn’t the social science say something about this, Mr Reeve?” To be able to then combat the way the tide is flowing at that point is very difficult. So you have to have the tools at your disposal to effectively argue back. I think what the profession should be saying is [that] the social science shouldn’t be used in that way.’
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Comments (65)

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  • Tim :

    03 Jul 2014 1:54:10pm

    At last, some real science to support my theory that any mother of a child under four who leaves the kid with dad so she can have a night off is, in fact, neglecting her child.

      • Laurie :

        04 Jul 2014 10:08:50am

        An article about not reading what comes after the heading. Seems like you’ve fallen into it Tim.
        This article and the “real science” indicate nothing of the sort.

      • Mom :

        02 Feb 2015 1:36:50am

        I have a 3yr old son who currently spend 2 nights a fortnight with his father, he has been doing this for 2yrs now and unfortunately, this si not in the best interests of him, it never really worked when he was young and now I see how unsettled he reallyis, now that he is old enough to express himself a lot more verbally. His father and I would assume, many, feel that the need for them to bond with the child is more significant that the need for the child to be bonded to their mother and actual home. We as residential parents see the effects that such visits have on our children, that which a non residential parent can experience. I come form a family of 3 and was raised by my father and spent every second holiday with my non resident mother,…I seek to change our parental orderto include more frequent visits and NO overnight stays. I believe that any plans that we have as parents have for our children should evolve and be more accommodating to the child’s needs rather than the needs of our own.
        Let me know what the non-resident fathers think.

  • Aaron :

    03 Jul 2014 2:35:45pm

    Why is it always the father as being referred to as the ‘non’ parent.
    My ex and I separated when our daughter was 3 and son was 8 months old. They immediately began 4 nights per fortnight with me.
    I went to court for increased time/holidays and won and now my kids are both thriving. They have 2 houses and are happy well mannered kids. A child needs to have time to bond and spend time with both parents. Too often one parent (usually the father) is treated unfairly.

      • Mathew :

        03 Jul 2014 3:38:05pm

        I agree Aaron, I have been in the same position since my daughter was 3. I am thankful to have 50% care of my daughter and wouldn’t have it any other way, whilst initially being a soft touch to my daughters requests, a consistent approach to parenting both shared with her mother is having it’s benefits. I am sure there will be a time that my daughter will require a higher proportion of care with her mother, but until then I am taking my opportunity to assist with my daughters development.

      • SingleMum :

        03 Jul 2014 4:25:05pm

        Aaron, I can’t help agreeing with you. When my marriage broke up and I was the one who ended, It was only I who wished to sever those ties with my ex husband. In spite of the fact that he was itinerant for most of the year and showed no particular interest in having the children full time, or, indeed, contributing financially to their care, I did not at any time stop him from having access to the children; either in my home, or on his own turf. A marital breakdown is a war in itself, but it should only exist between the relevant parties and the children should be given the choice, when it comes to dividing time between their parents.
        Obviously, in situations where domestic violence and abusive behaviour toward the children is recorded, things are likely to be different, but two people who love their children should not make the kids the meat in the sandwich, in order to one-up the other parent. I think my son and daughter have grown into wise young adults, who have grown up knowing that the can speak for themselves.
        I applaud your response and I too, worry that worthy fathers may have to fight even greater battles in court, to get reasonable and fair access to their children

      • Dean :

        03 Jul 2014 4:34:22pm

        Where is anyone referred to as a “‘non’ parent?”.
        All I see is “non-resident parent” which is a pretty self explanitory term.

      • Gavin Ness :

        03 Jul 2014 10:02:28pm

        We as men have no rights! Why bother trying to change the ignorant?

      • aussie in japan :

        03 Jul 2014 10:26:27pm

        Having the kids stay overnight with both of their parents makes them stronger mentally. I wonder why it has to apply just to kids under the age of four. It should also apply to kids of a much older age. It is worrying that lawyers are using this as “evidence” as to why kids should be kept away from their parents.

      • Ben :

        03 Jul 2014 10:51:14pm

        I have had my daughter on a 50/50 basis from the age of 1. She is now 8 and couldn’t imagine life any other way. She is the most well balanced child I know, a comment made by many who meet her. Her mother and I agreed when our marriage broke up that we would work together as any bitterness or hatred towards each other would only affect my daughter. She fell pregnant and had a baby to another man before we had even finalised our divorce, but the only thing that mattered to me was that my daughter got to spend equal time with us both. Shared parenting can work well, it depends on the maturity of the parents as to if it will work and how the child copes with the family break up.

  • steven :

    03 Jul 2014 2:37:51pm

    The trouble with research like this is that it leaves a lot of elephants in the room unanswered and raises questions which the purely rely on society’s myths and cherished beliefs.
    As I understand it, child care and women going back into the workforce has been supported by research showing children form multiply attachments (Schaffer) rather than just forming a single attachment (Bowlby) which was discredited in the 1970’s. If that is the case, the child will have formed attachments to both parents and then the imperative on the court is to put in place interim orders as quickly as possible to enable these multiple attachments to remain. Should one parent undertake actions to eliminate the attachment to one parent by delaying tactics including false accusations are they then harming the child and should be punished?
    We also then have to revisit child care, could it be argued that a parent putting a child into overnight care for work is causing harm to the child and should this be a deciding factor regarding who the child lives with. And children sleep through the day, should a working parent of a child under 4 be penalised and if one parent is prepared to return to full time care of child, should that be given additional weight and if so, should the other parent be forced to pay additional child support because the other parent isn’t working.
    Eventually we will see science and the law clashing with societal myths when we see headlines regarding mothers forced to choose between working and care of the child, when custody of a child goes to the father who is working days over a mother working shift work as a nurse, When custody goes to a stay at home dad over a working mother and a mother cried to a magazine about only having a few hours a week with her child. Feminism has always stated that a woman should never have to choose between work and children, if this negative interpretation of the research is properly applied, this will no longer hold true for either gender.
    Personally I fought in court to see my children, I have a daughter to a woman who wanted the child to raise by herself but not a father and from the time the child was born, fought bitterly to achieve this using all sorts of arguments and sabotaging methods. My daughter eventually came to stay overnight with me when she was 2 years old for extended periods. What is required is maturity by all parties. What harm was caused was caused by the court itself changing contact arrangements and cutting overlaps with other siblings.

      • Malcolm :

        18 Jul 2014 4:33:58pm

        It is often suspicious how research supports societal biases. Women want to go out to work? Children form multiple attachments, so women are not harming them by leaving them with childminders all day. Women divorcing their husbands? Children shouldn’t spend overnights away from the primary parent, so that helps to marginalise dad.

  • peter of mitcham :

    03 Jul 2014 2:43:45pm

    “… parenting guru Penelope Leach” Remember Francis Wheen’s exploration of that term? He said that guru is used because charlatan won’t fit in a headline.

  • Richie :

    03 Jul 2014 3:17:58pm

    As a father who has been through the wringer that is the family court system I find it disturbing that views like this can still exist.
    As we move towards a more egalitarian society, women and men both have their role to play in parenting.
    Custody should start on a 50/50 basis and go out from there.

      • deadcat :

        03 Jul 2014 4:59:09pm

        I sympathise with your obvious problems with the Family Court. As you may know, Hawke set out to promote extreme left-wing feminists into the public service and many of them ended up in the Family Court “counselling” and assessment office – the dept. the judges listen most to.It was in my experience, compulsory to deal with this department. In my case I perceived the woman assessing my wife and I appeared exceptionally biased against me. When I had her investigated I found she was stepmother to more than 30 cats, which, while not illegal, tends to indicate a mental abberation. I brought this and the bias, to the attention of her boss, another female and asked for a male to take over the case.She refused bluntly and said we had to deal with catwoman. When the matter came to court the first time, I found the court had appointed a female lawyer to represent my four children. Further investigation revealed this lawyer was having an affair with a female in the counselling section. The lawyer, who was paid more than $15,000 never spoke to the children.When I was able to conclusively show my wife the results of independent investigations, we mutually decided to give the Family Court a big miss and come to a private arrangement which has worked out well for all concerned, especially the kids. My advice to everyone having domestic problems is avoid lawyers because they don’t really give a damn, and if you can’t come to a sensible agreement with your partner, try and agree to get community or religious
        support and advice.It’s worth a bit of genuine give and take to avoid the adversarial character shredding and resulting anger that comes from being another victim of the family court.

      • Jonathan :

        03 Jul 2014 9:25:53pm

        A 50:50 basis can work – and after a while even the parent fighting for sole custody may see that. Its hard looking after a child 100% of the time! 50% allows the child to maintain a relationship with both parents, while also giving the parents time to redevelop themselves. Many people fight their way through the court system because they are afraid of losing all contact with their children. Having 50% custody may remove the desire from either parent for 100% custody, and the fighting stops. But the lawyers might not like that!
        Why, unless there is clear cut child abuse,can children end up close to 100% of the time with one parent against the wishes of the other?

      • Annette :

        04 Jul 2014 12:21:33am

        I totally agree with you Richie. Why does one parent have more rights than the other? It should be automatically 50% access and neither parent should need to go to court for this right.
        CSA don’t help the situation by basing payments on percentage of care, this just means that some parents are denying access just for the financial incentive or revenge on the other parent.

      • Michael :

        04 Jul 2014 7:28:57am

        Custody needs to be decided based on circumstances, it must be fair but I don’t agree with 50/50 and go from there.
        If one parent works in a high hour job, say 85 to 90 hours a fortnight then it wouldn’t make sense for them to have as much custody time as someone who works part time only during school hours.

      • Frank6th :

        05 Jul 2014 4:38:40pm

        Reading the blogs I feel we have uncovered such an injustice to fathers in the family law process. It is on a scale of that of the stolen generation. Maybe we need to form a class action so that this matter is addressed, wrongs righted and procedures put in place so that children’s future is no longer determined by the bias of individuals with a monetary interest.

  • CCB :

    03 Jul 2014 3:41:22pm

    This article works on what is called the “mother principle” which is that childrens should live with their mothers.
    That is not the basis of family law and nor should it be.
    Children under the age of 4 years are not necessarily living with the mother as the primary carer.
    A counter argument to the findings of this research is what would be suggestion where between mother and father, the child lives with the mother, the mother has less parenting skills and the time the child is quality time and a better experience for the child

      • Dean :

        03 Jul 2014 4:38:42pm

        Where could one find more reading on the “mother principle”?
        I tried Googling it and only came up with a few different superhero comics and one new-agey book about ancient gods. Certainly nothing pertaining to family law
        Do you know who coined the term?

      • Andrew :

        04 Jul 2014 5:12:20am

        Dean, I believe they are referring to the ‘Tender Years Doctrine’

  • Damien :

    03 Jul 2014 3:51:35pm

    Did Ms Leach bother to consider the outcomes for the fathers? We are people too.

  • furbies :

    03 Jul 2014 4:20:26pm

    As long as the non-custodial parent isn’t just using access/overnight stays as a means of diminishing the amount of support they pay, then why not go with 50/50 shared ?
    I write as someone who as one of five children was used by their parents as bargaining chips in a messy divorce.
    And as for the “Father’s Rights” lobby, from my experience, several non-custodial male parents that I’ve known as an adult, their almost sole reason for getting overnight access/visits was just to get revenge against their (former) partner, and lessen the amount of child support they were required to pay.

      • Jamie Andrews :

        03 Jul 2014 5:00:21pm

        This is a total fabrication. I have never know any fathers to do such a thing. All parents have a right to 50/50 – this should always be the case as the default starting position. It is so wrong that fathers are even mentioned as “non-custodial” or the “non-resident” parent. Why should this be the case any more than the mother? I have been in this exact situation – I have my children 50% of the time and they also have two complete homes. This is far better than “camping” at either parent’s house. We need to stop pretending that mother’s are somehow better parent’s than fathers. Children need a proper relationship with each parent and a proper, complete home with each parents. If this same article was the opposite way around and suggested that mothers should not have such access to their children it wouldn’t even get published. It’s time for this extreme sexism to stop.

      • Sad as it is :

        03 Jul 2014 6:20:59pm

        This can be used from the other point of where in Child Support Formula Assessment in Australia where a parent has zero care in some circumstances mean the difference between being able to afford their mortgage or not.
        Maybe the motivation of whether one parent believes they should not be paying a large amount of money to other parent or whether they should have the opportunity to have that money themselves to support their children in their care if the other parent or court allows.
        Financial institutions in Australia take into account Child Support as an income. Even though the receiving parent is not taxed on that income. So if that’s not motivation in some circumstances to withhold care I don’t what is?
        Why do you think there are groups such as ‘Father Rights” lobby when studies such as these are the basis for decisions by family courts not to allow overnight care with their children.

      • Erin :

        03 Jul 2014 7:28:58pm

        ….”then why not go with 50/50 shared ?”
        The main reason is that 50/50 shared parenting isn’t the norm while the parents are together. 50% parenting done by a parent who usually does, say, 20% can be quite a shock to a child (under 4) who is already going through a fairly traumatic change in their life.
        Mens rights groups may have more chance of changing the defaults of the family court if they changed the defaults of our society. Increase the numbers of families with two parents working part time and support groups like the Fathering Project to get dads involved while they are still married.

      • Andrew :

        03 Jul 2014 7:45:44pm

        Yep, and loving their kids would have had absolutely nothing to do with it.
        If you could spend more time with your kids, and lessen the amount you need to pay in child support if you’re happy to directly support the children by having them live 50% with you, wouldn’t you?

      • K :

        03 Jul 2014 9:23:38pm

        You are naive if you think virtually every argument about money isn’t driven by the woman.
        I don’t know a single separated father that cares at all about the money paid in child support. Most pay more than they need to and also pay things like school fees, health insurance and clothes etc on top of what is paid in official child support. But the women are rarely happy and constantly want more.
        All the Dads I know ever want is fair time with their kids and input into their lives. Why is it that fathers have to go to court to get time with their kids? It should be 50/50 by default unless the father can be proven incompetent, not the other way around.

      • Steve :

        04 Jul 2014 12:38:49am

        I don’t think much of the males you know. Most fathers I know love their kids and want to be involved in their lives and show them they are loved by both of their parents. I suspect you’re generalizing about an entire gender based on a few “bad apples”. For the record, there are plenty of spiteful women who withhold access to children from their fathers, behavior which is hardly in anyone’s interest. So much for the nurturing mother figure. Luckily, another minority.

      • Henry :

        04 Jul 2014 12:44:00am

        If it’s 50/50 shared (which is what the Father’s Rights lobby wants) why should anybody be paying child support to anybody else?
        This opinion is sexist, and assumes all fathers are evil, and that men should just hand over money to women.
        Why is it that you feel that only men are out to get revenge on their former partner and because of that men should be forced to give money to their ex?
        Sounds like you’re just concerned about protecting the privilege women have in the court system and ensuring that they keep getting money they didn’t earn.

      • Schala :

        04 Jul 2014 1:18:36am

        “And as for the “Father’s Rights” lobby, from my experience, several non-custodial male parents that I’ve known as an adult, their almost sole reason for getting overnight access/visits was just to get revenge against their (former) partner, and lessen the amount of child support they were required to pay.”
        It seems the reverse is also true. The mother wants sole or most custody to get more child support, and to take revenge on the ex.
        And the court will side with her Most of the time, even if the husband can demonstrate this. Even if it’s obvious to the court.

  • leafygreens :

    03 Jul 2014 5:18:07pm

    Did they even try to be gender neutral on this?
    If it is about an age related stability and primary care effect, then it shouldn’t matter if the custodial /primary parent is Mum or Dad.
    And it shouldn’t matter if the sleepover is at the other parents, or another carer like nanna (s)
    Otherwise, if it is starting from the premise that Mum is ‘only best’ and Dad is disruptive, then no wonder its being used as lawyer cannon shot for access & custody!
    Lots of questions spring to mind:
    If Dad has every right to bond with his preschooler child as Mum, how can he do that if he is a day only adult.
    How have u4s ever coped with sleeping over at Nanna’s??
    Where would Mums ‘new boyfriend who sleeps over’ fit into this as a male in the primary care household at night?
    Should under 4’s ever sleep anywhere else but ‘home’?

  • Philip Ewen :

    03 Jul 2014 5:23:40pm

    I am constantly amazed at the lack of common sense in this debate. Off course children at any age should spend preferably equal time with each parent. Children are a lot more adaptable than adults and variety is the spice of life.

      • Henry :

        04 Jul 2014 12:46:09am

        You are right Philip, there is not a rational discussion here. The discussion is lead by feminist ideology that does not want shared parenting. The National Organization for Women (NOW), one of the largest feminist organizations, is staunchly against shared parenting. This is evidence that they are not a pro-equality group, but are more concerned with maintaining female privilege of having control over the lives and wallets of their ex’s.

  • Tom :

    03 Jul 2014 5:25:40pm

    Academics writing about child-sharing after relationship breakups is asinine and extremely damaging to the process of doing what is right for the children. Clearly, where custody is disputed, the parents should each be assessed for their ability and suitability to be the primary carer. Judges and professors are singularly unqualified to do this , yet theirs is the opinion which carries most weight.
    Shared custody is always the best solution, unless health and distance are factors. In my case, I was awarded full custody of my 15 month old daughter by default. Her mother had become too mentally unstable and needed to be removed from our daughter’s proximity after a particularly violent episode. I was able to use the Police, Legal Aid and the DHS to obtain an Intervention Order, but have been terrified of going to Family Law Court. Anybody who has gone before a Magistrate knows that they can be fickle and arbitrary in their decisions.
    But does this mean that all women are crazy after childbirth and should have their children taken from them? Does it mean fathers are more suitable sole parents? No and no, although fathers ought to truly have 50/50 custody with sleepovers and every 2nd birthday and the whole shebang. Means testing both parents’ ability to provide interim care should be looked at immediately by DHS and this should include mental health.

  • Sue :

    03 Jul 2014 5:38:10pm

    So children under four shouldn’t spend the night at their grandparents either by that argument.

      • Dan :

        04 Jul 2014 6:45:14am

        This was my immediate thought too Sue.

  • PW :

    03 Jul 2014 8:12:01pm

    Firstly, who is to say that the custodial parent is the same person as the “primary attachment figure”. It wasn’t in the case of my son once he was 2 years old or so, no matter what his mother tried.
    Secondly, you reduce the role of a non-custodial parent, that void in a child’s life will soon be taken up by someone else, such as a new partner of the custodial parent. This person may or may not be willing or emotionally able to take this responsibility on, and may or may not be a suitable model. What is certain, though, is that this person will not have the depth of love of a true parent.
    In short, this is a really foolish and poorly thought out idea.

  • Jeff Mitting :

    03 Jul 2014 8:47:00pm

    I’m stunned by the title of this article, how can this even be a question in the modern world.
    In my experience I would have lost 2 years quality time with my son using that parenting model, how would that help him or me build a unique and loving relationship in a difficult time? It would seem the perfect way to alienate a parent and child.
    It sounds more like someone has an axe to grind. This is a backward step.

  • pete :

    03 Jul 2014 9:09:46pm

    Like Richie I too have been through the ringer. Two final hearings and $340K in legal bills. The court removed the orders slowly over time rewarding the mother for keeping up a level of conflict. The court put the onus back to my 9yo daughter that she could elect to see me if she chose to. Needless to say I have not seen or heard from her for 3.5 years and my ex has contravened and completely disregarded the orders. The family court system and ICL program is an utter joke.
    50/50 custody certainly from the age of 6/7 should be a given and only repealed if the child is some sort of danger. The court should also use the premise of beyond reasonable doubt rather than trumped up hearsay from the withholding party. There is no need to prove anything in the current system. An accusation is all that is needed.

  • Brett :

    03 Jul 2014 9:17:56pm

    Ummmmmmm, why SHOULDN’T they have the kiddies sleep over? Mine were 10 months and 2½ years when my split happened. There were no dramas (well, not from the kids amyway).

  • Gary Pick :

    03 Jul 2014 9:52:22pm

    Try explaining to a 3 year old why she’s not allowed to stay the night and then have to leave her in tears.

  • ironore068 :

    03 Jul 2014 9:57:56pm

    WHy always is the dad referred to as the non-custodial parent? Your initial subject header shows that the author is discriminating right from the start! I am about to lodge a $1 Million dollar lawsuit in favour of my son who the Obviously Corrupt family Court supported. My son is sueing on the grounds that the case support counscellor gave him permission to ignore the law of which he is now being charged! I have the documents from the family court supporting said right!

  • ironore068 :

    03 Jul 2014 10:00:34pm

    Just like the family court. My previous post was not published due to your rules of how many characters can be published! You will see my son’s case in the court of apparent law!

  • Paul :

    03 Jul 2014 10:25:41pm

    It frightens me that the idea of depriving dads and their children of essential opportunities for bonding and caring is taken seriously. I was a house husband for several years and loved the opportunity to look full time after our children. The idea that someone could take away one of the most precious experiences of our lives is cruel in the extreme. Both parents provide invaluable learning experiences and ideally should contribute fully to their child’s development. Fortunately, while we split up all of us (kids and parents) were unequivocal in the 50:50 share arrangements.

  • Brad Medhurst :

    03 Jul 2014 10:26:18pm

    I encourage to my upmost shared parenting in every manner. My story is as follows- in 1993 my son was born of a short term relationship, when we discovered my partner was pregnant I was wrapped with happiness and excitement. We had several break ups during and after the pregnancy. Eventually it was mutually decided we were over. My ex-partner took on some sort of attitude that she should have the right to claim max child support from me with no access for me to the child, back then it was ok to do that and the family courts were of the attitude of sway on caution as some fathers had flipped out and done unthinkable acts. Me, I have to my name still today about 5 minor speeding/parking tickets to my wrap sheet. I had to borrow from my parents $8000 to fight for access in the courts which I was finally granted very limited access after 4 sessions, when after a while it no longer suited, she when I went to pick our son up, suggested he was too unwell to come with me, that then followed, time after time. After envestigation I found the only way to enforce the court order was to have the police physically remove my then 2 year old from the home. I chose not to take that action and not subject him to that. My son is now 21, and I still don’t see him because of the poison and lies his mother has told him. I am pleased to say I have since had two relationships, the first I am still great friends with and her kids regularly call me and we all have fond memories, the second relationship I am still in and we are a very happy family, my partners ex, plus his new partner and my partner are all on the same page with parenting the best for the kids. In summary the new system is so much better.

  • Vege :

    03 Jul 2014 11:28:22pm

    The Family Court is the only court in the land where a person can lie through their teeth and not be prosecuted. Through that process there appears to be far more female victims than male. In that regard one should not read too much into claims of domestic violence.
    But if the family court system really wants to get is teeth into some serious social issues that have had very little attention let alone minimal influence on the family court process, try exploring emotional abuse. It would appear the overwhelming majority of abusers are in fact women not men.
    The only acceptable reason for a child to have some restriction on access to their father is during breast feeding.

  • Domanik :

    03 Jul 2014 11:38:14pm

    Just because a practice is more common, or traditional doesn’t make it better or right. Adoption for example by gay and lesbian couples. Reports clearly indicate that a child does just as well and often better in a same sex home environment as a traditional family model.
    The lack of the “feminine” and “masculine” roles is an ignorant, outdated and intolerant excuse to add to the debate against gay marriage.
    I have seen first hand, the pain and stresses created from family breakdown and understand all too well the verbal bashing each parent can give out. I have seen women and children on the end of abusive violent relationships, I have seen men get treated like scum from erroneous family court decisions.
    Having a penis or a vagina doesn’t make you a better parent. Loving your child does.

  • Lee :

    04 Jul 2014 12:04:21am

    I can only talk on this from the perspective of a grandfather. Even though I think my granddaughters father, who does not pay his child support, is a wanker, he is good with his daughter. My daughter and I discussed what was right and what was wrong when she split up with this idiot and came to the conclusion that he presents no danger to the child and thus there was, and is, no valid reason to keep them apart. In essence it is my granddaughters right to know who her father and it is in her best interest to be able to continue and develop that relationship. My daughter to her credit has been able to put her resentment aside and actively fosters and helps with this relationship, of which she gets no praise from the father. My granddaughter is now 6 and has an honest and candid outlook about mum and dad and I think has benefitted from at least one parent acting in her best interest. Basically what I am saying is that mum and dad should just get over it and understand its their children’s right to have a good strong and meaningful relationship with both their mother and father and no one has the right to interfere with those relationships and especially not the other parent. I see too many parents using their children and their money as a tool to foster their own hate toward each other when in actual fact the important thing is the child’s rights and wellbeing. Their own self pity gets in the way of good parenting. Thank god my own daughter has been able to rise above that sort of stupidity.

  • Dvae :

    04 Jul 2014 12:58:15am

    Outrageous. This is exactly the reason our country is doomed. Men are refusing to have children in droves because of laws like this. If anything, single fathers make better parents as their children are in general, better human beings. Girls especially raised by single mothers almost always turn out to be money hungry narcissists who can’t do anything except complain. Laws like this are the reason so many men are taking their own lives and the lives of their children. If any women tried to take my visitation rights away from my child, heaven help her.

  • Dfl :

    04 Jul 2014 2:45:51am

    Ii feel for every dad out there who genuinely wants to have more care but stripped from his parental rights and is just expected to work and provide like a machine. It should be 50/50 Especially if the father is capable and willing to care.

  • Uncle S :

    04 Jul 2014 6:58:47am

    Children are innocents in any marriage breakup. Children need BOTH parents, unless there’s abuse. So yes, they love dad as much as they love mum. Fathers often get a raw deal, if not in the courts, certainly in social attitudes.

  • Ravensclaw :

    04 Jul 2014 8:26:06am

    When sole custody is awarded for children under 4 (but no longer breastfed), father’s should be getting the sole custody approx 50% of the time.
    Ideally, both parents (when they are both sane) should get equal custody, and that is the optimal choice for the interests of the children.
    For too long young children have been used as a meat shield for vindictive mothers to get a disproportionate share of assets after a divorce, and as ongoing leverage to suck the father dry.
    Why is it so difficult for a father to get sole custody if the mother is violent, a serial criminal, a manipulative bully, mentally imbalanced, or a drug addict?
    The sole parent’s association has a large female membership. Mainly due to the fact it is the sisters and mothers of fathers who have been rorted by the family law system.
    Change is long overdue.

      • PellyintheWilderness :

        04 Jul 2014 1:07:48pm

        Glad to see someone mentioning breastfeeding. In cases where a child is breastfeeding and co-sleeping with its mother, it would be wrong to allow the child’s father to have overnight-stay rights. Bear in mind that it is the global and historical norm for young children to breastfeed and co-sleep for up to four years, sometimes longer. It is not self-indulgence on the part of the mother.

  • Grant :

    04 Jul 2014 8:36:49am

    I accept the article’s presumption that it is fathers who would be affected by this, mainly. That’s reality.
    My annoyance is towards McIntosh. Given its likely use in law courts and the author’s knowledge of that, surely she should have been more clear about the findings. She could have consulted with law societies about her draft findings section, and see if its potential use is consistent with her best interpretation of the data. Get some input from the legal profession, so her report’s usage will be consistent with its true meaning.

  • Ariel :

    04 Jul 2014 12:18:59pm

    sent on 3 July but maybe it got lost? killed? Usually I find the Law report’s approach informative and reasonably unbiased – even on contentious topics. But to me this edition was appallingly unrepresentative of what I would call pro-child views.You know that Patrick Parkinson is the ‘architect’ of and apologist for 2006 shared parenting ‘reforms’ that – no matter what was alleged – did not really put the interests of the child first. The changes to Family Law from 7 June 2012 attempted to remedy this and brought in some . considerations such as the UNCoRC.”On 7 June 2012 changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) will take effect. These changes will provide better protection in family law cases where there is family violence and abuse.” Violence and abuse were apparently not mentioned by you even though they are often the reason why protective parents don’t want kids to stay overnight. There are many attachment studies about the effect of separation especially in stressful and conflict-ridden situations. After 2006 so many parents (usually fathers) who had never shown any positive interest in their kids before suddenly realised (thanks to FRights info) that if they had overnights with the kid now and then, they would pay (or not because many didn’t) a lot less Child support. Tom Reeves touched briefly on this.You didn’t give any counterbalance to the views which, from my experience, pretty much represent Fathers’ Rights angle. Many fathers are being given overnights and even sole custody many mothers and kids are being separated either permanently or only allowed contact under cruel conditions. But Bettina and others choose to ignore this fact.Children are little elephants in every courtroom.Why not ask what is the actual situation for all kids removed from their primary carer(if she or he hasn’t committed any crime – except alleging violence or abuse? instead of starting another round of “he said, she said” this time with ‘professionals’ badmouthing each other?Meanwhile child abuse in many forms continues unabated.

      • Lee :

        04 Jul 2014 10:20:12pm

        Thank you. These men’s rights groups push for their own rights but it is all about the child and their right to a good life.

      • John :

        16 Jul 2014 5:23:36pm

        Did you know that three times as many women as men are incarcerated in Australia every year for child abuse! The U.S. it is about two times as many ….
        Some great websites for men to visit are AVfM (U.S.), Man Woman Myth, and A Girl Writes What ….
        If you google Australian Crime Statistics you should be able to find what I have mentioned …. These figures came from 2012 subjects in Criminology …. Surprising isn’t it when we become more informed how a worldview will change 🙂

  • steven :

    04 Jul 2014 2:21:31pm

    For those wanting a scientifically creditable source of information regarding these issues, I would recommend Schaffers book: “Making Decisions about Children: Psychological Questions and Answers” to which i was lucky enough to be referred.
    Schaffer was the pioneer in the field that lead to the discrediting of the motherhood primacy argument and that children separated from their mother suffer psychological damage.( the idea developed by Bowlbys in the late 1940’s observing children in orphanages. Funny how we still hang onto old ideas over 60 years later). Schaffer determined that children form multiple primary attachments rather than single and the best practice is to these relationships.
    Despite this book being produced by the fields leading researcher and expert summarising peer reviewed studies specifically to answer legal questions and recommended by a law professor , the court magistrates and judges involved, prefer to go ahead with their own personal beliefs and prejudices.

  • John :

    15 Jul 2014 12:13:44pm

    Driving to work a few weeks ago and heard this discussion on RN, congratulations Damien for choosing this topic … I would like to highlight part of the discussion approximately 12 mins in that suggests a father maintains a bond with a child with one overnighter a week! Since the thrust of the discussion seems to have been the legitimacy of social research in determining outcomes for fathers in the family court and how this research is interpreted … I would like to ask the gentlemen where is the research that says a father can “maintain a bond” with his child with this level of contact??
    I have interpreted this man’s meaning of the word bond to be a parental “bond.” Ok where’s the social research on that topic?
    That being said, I am an “older” man that has four children, gone through divorce and seen the family court system in all its glory, I have been divorced for seven years, gained a degree in psychology and was the primary care giver of my children for three of those seven years (now week about). I am a statistical outlier in this discussion!
    I can now look back on the anguish caused by the family court system in Western society for the past forty years or so as being cruel and unusual punishment for the majority of males that have “elevated” their maleness to becoming fathers … meaning with current divorce rates a father can more likely have the expectation of being alienated from having a basic human right of nurturing offspring devolve into an obscene narrative of “begging to be recognised as a human being in the family court system!”
    The reality of this half century of abuse towards fatherhood is some alarming social statistics coming out of different Western democracies …. Japan, over 60% of men will never marry or want to marry (different for Japanese women who still want marriage and children), the same in the USA, only 17% of males 16-25 years of age express a desire to marry and have children “some day,” where nearly 40% of US females want to marry and have children, and anecdotally this mirrors European male’s feelings for marriage and family!
    So it would seem Damien men and boy’s aspirations for their future around the Western world have somehow short circuited the debate here! They are voting with their feet and saying no to marriage and or fatherhood … The subject matter has clearly left the building unnoticed!!!!

  • Robert St. Estephe :

    18 Jul 2014 6:15:10am

    Ideology is not science. The status quo is determined, in large part, by zealotsw who bewlieve in marxist “patriarchy” mythology. I have encountered many of these activist “scholars,” whose aim is not to be objective but rather political interventionism intended to push their utopianist agenda. Look up Dr. Sandra Scarr and her “New Century Children” if you want to see what the zealots are upo to.

  • Brian Hopgood :

    18 Jul 2014 11:09:07am

    ” ‘The truth is, we’re puzzled by this; we’re not sure why they’ve been interpreted this way and why they’ve been boiled down that way. ”
    I’m not puzzled at all. Feminists have an anti male agenda, and they will twist or omit any study which doesn’t portray males negatively or which might portray females less than positivly.

  • Political Cynic :

    18 Jul 2014 12:06:25pm

    There is NO question why Ms. Leach and many in the family court system have done this: The fact is that feminism has a long history of opposing shared parenting. NOW has REGULARLY opposed it in the US-and there is currently no feminist group actively supporting shared parenting arrangements.
    Family court systems favor mothers-always-and it is in the interest of gender ideologues to perpetuate their ideology by painting men as “the bad guy” and “the bad parent” and Ms. Leach is no exception.
    And to be blunt, a large part of this can be seen if one just follows the MONEY. Without shared parenting, there are more child support payments and more wealth transferred from men to women-with a concommitant percentage to lawyers. With things like shared parenting, the amount of MONEY to be transferred is significantly reduced. Thus, there is NO incentive whatsoever to actually look at the reasearch and say “gee, maybe we’ve had this WRONG for years and years”. The incentive is the money-and the money goes with taking the child AWAY from daddy.
    The answer to most things is quite simple: follow the money. This is no exception.

  • Tara :

    08 Mar 2015 11:56:34pm

    I understand what the author is saying. Almost everyone In the comment section is complaining about their parental rights and a huge injustice to fathers. The focus here is on small children.
    I can say when my children have been away for a night two with their father or grandparents they always come back unsettled. Their routine is disrupted, and routine is all about predictability.
    Unless you have two separated parents who are prepared to parent in an identical way and hold the same parenting values then this is nearly impossible.
    I also disagree that there is a gender bias in the family court system. I think the issue is deeper than that. It comes down to how involved a father is before a relationship reaches the stage of separation. You can’t for example be a father who chooses to work full time and only enjoy quality time each weekend with your child while the mother is primarily there raising the children and expect the family court to order a change of residence. Your requests of the court have to be in line with what responsibility and role you undertook prior to the relationship with the other parent breaking down. The needs of the child must always be the number one consideration. If someone is a father who stays at home and raises the children and the mother works full time supporting the family financially then the family court would order the father be the primary caretaker.
    One trend that I have noticed within the family court is that bad behaviour by either parent is not suffienty addressed. Domestic violence is an epidemic that the family court brushes under the table, so is child sexual abuse. I frequently read articles that say most accusations are false, and it’s a vindictive way for mothers to win custody. This is not true and even where there is strong evidence of the occurrence of such abuse these people are given just as much access as good parents. It does a great disservice to mainly good men and fathers. My own father was awarded every second weekend., he is a good man, a hardworking, moral and virtuous person. My children’s father can basically admitt to child sexual abuse and has a long history of domestic violence and bad character and is awarded every second weekend access. Something is very wrong.
    On the other hand a mother could be just as bad and the family court will give her unsupervised visits. I’ve read hundreds of cases and it does not matter if you’re male or female if you’re a bad parent there is no consequence or child protection and children regularly have to spend over night visits with people like this. No wonder it’s so damaging for them.