Augusto Zimmermann  – the Epoch Times and Men’s Rights Agency Facebook page
Submissions on the Australian government’s draft Family Law Amendment Bill are due by Feb. 27. There is much to be concerned about in Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus’s draft amendment. But perhaps its most problematic aspect is the proposal to remove the order for “equal shared parental responsibility.”
As noted by Patrick Parkinson, a leading family law academic, the draft released on Jan. 30 “stripped almost all references which encourage the meaningful involvement of both parents in relations to the child after separation.”
One of the well-known facts about divorce is that children often adapt better to their parents’ separation if they are allowed to have a continuing contact with both of their parents. Richard Warshak, an American clinical and research psychologist, says that in normal circumstances little children are more likely to do better if they have overnight contact with both parents.
This conclusion is endorsed by more than 110 leading researchers and practitioners, including Barry Nurcombe, an emeritus professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Queensland.
According to Professor Nurcombe: “The experts who signed the report are amongst the best in the world in their fields … The paper highlights the fact that current policies relating to overnight contact with … young children have been excessively affected by a misplaced concern to the mother.”
However, one of the most disturbing trends in contemporary society is the increasing distance, if not complete alienation, of fathers from their biological children.
In Australia, thousands of fathers have had their contact with their children limited to a few hours and often spend huge sums on lawyers, fighting to be able to care for their children overnight.
One can hear the testimony of good fathers whose spouses have run off and been awarded the sole custody of their biological children while they are expected to pay full support.
In its review of submissions to a government inquiry about changes in the family law system, the Australian Family Association (AFA) noted the prevalence of a feminist view among pro-women groups, which appears to consider that children are “all-right” without any contact with their biological fathers.
One such submission went so far as to postulate that fathers should have no contact whatsoever with their children after the divorce. By contrast, AFA has noted how the father groups have a special focus on the needs of the child, particularly meaningful contact with the fathers and emotional support to their children.
The evidence is overwhelming that when marriages fail, Australian fathers are much less likely to be awarded custody of their children and far more likely to be displaced from the family home.
Since the system tends to favour women with the custody of children and the family home (even where men are unemployed and have nowhere else to go), these are significant factors in the growth of male homelessness and suicide in Australia.
Indeed, suicide is the number one killer of Australian men under the age of 44. According to research by the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention, almost half of all the male suicides in this country are directly linked to family law issues such as child custody and pending legal matters.
In this sense, some fathers who know about these serious problems are trapped in coercive relationships due to the entirely reasonable fear of losing access to their children.
There has also been an increase in cases of men falling victim to the controlling behaviour of women who use their children as leverage to threaten their fathers into staying in abusive relationships.
“Family courts, particularly where children are involved, are quite renowned for supporting women,” says Kate Ryan, a family lawyer, who also believes that “women know that and use it and know that their children are a hard-hitting point, yet that’s manipulation.”
Although the media, government inquiries, and pronouncements by politicians appear to suggest that child abuse is perpetrated overwhelmingly by biological fathers, decades of research indicate that children who live without their biological fathers are at significantly higher risk of being abused.
According to Professor Parkinson, “girls, in particular, are at much greater risk of sexual abuse from the mother’s new partner than from their own father.”
Naturally, sensible people would see this as a pointer to the protective nature of the bond between daughters and fathers. Nonetheless, defending the important role played by fathers in the protection of their children is not part of the prevailing agenda.
Instead of addressing the problems described above, the present proposal of the Australian government to remove the order of equal shared parental responsibility provision will inevitably lead to even more unjust outcomes for both children and good parents.
Prof Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD
Former Law Reform Commissioner, WA (2012-2017)
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