Fixing Australia’s Broken Family Law and Child Support Systems

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By Professor Augusto Zimmerman.

Augusto Zimmerman has been one of the few Australian academics to speak out boldly about the dysfunction in the nation’s family law and child support systems. He does so from a position of strength, being a former Law Reform Commissioner and now President of the Western Australia’s Legal Theory Association.

Child-support payments, parental alienation and adult male suicide – an undeniable link

According to a significant academic paper endorsed by 110 leading international experts, it is not correct to assume that sharing overnight care is necessarily problematic for the young child.
As stated by Professor Nurcombe, Emeritus Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Queensland, ‘the paper highlights the fact that current policies relating to overnight contact with […] young children have been excessively affected by misplaced concern to the mother’.
Amongst the 110 leading researchers and practitioners mentioned in that research paper are Dr Don Edgar, former Foundation Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Judy Cashmore AO, Professor in Socio-Legal Studies at Sydney University, and Emeritus Professor Barry Nurcombe, who then explains that ‘these experts who signed the report are amongst the best in the world in their fields’. 
Parental alienation can devastate the relationship between a parent and his/her children. However, there is an undeniable link between the child-support scheme and attempts by some parents to eradicate the relationship between the child and the other parent.
Given that child support is calculated on the number of nights children spend with each parent, it is entirely reasonable to expect that a primary carer may be very tempted to withhold access for solely monetary reasons.
Contrary to popular belief, child-support payments have nothing to do with irresponsible fathers abandoning their children. This support scheme was primarily motivated by concerns about growing welfare expenditure.
Developed in the late 1980’s to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in relation to child support, such a scheme ‘was largely driven by the need to ensure … that private transfers of money from fathers to mothers reduced the burden of the state in terms of welfare expenditure’.
Across Australia, parents are being told in mediation sessions or by lawyers that there is no hope of overnight contact with their children. In view of the financial reward acquired, the position of custodial parents is that the other parent should spend the least time possible with their children.
As a result, thousands of parents who have had their contact with their young children limited to a few hours, often spend huge sums on lawyers, fighting to be able to care for their children overnight. Indeed, over 1 million children are living without their fathers and that the legislation underpinning the Family Court of Australia and the Child Support Agency has been a major factor contributing to the fatherlessness crisis.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1,901 males (16.8 per 100,000) and 634 females (5.6 per 100,000) died by suicide in 2012 alone. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that the suicide rate for men aged 20 to 39 years has risen by 70 per cent over the last two decades. ….more read on
Read the rest of this brilliant exposé at A Sense of Place Magazine

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