The Gillard government will provoke the ire of fathers’ groups today with landmark changes to family law designed to protect children in cases of domestic violence.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland will press ahead with legislation winding back some of the shared parenting changes ushered in by the Howard government.
The changes will make it easier for parents to produce evidence of violence in cases where parents are in dispute over contact arrangements. The legislation will include new legal definitions of abuse and family violence.
The government believes the Howard changes made it difficult for women to make allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes because they could end up with costs awarded against them, or be branded an unfriendly parent, increasing the chances of shared care being ordered.
Family law experts, and women’s groups, have urged the government to make child safety a more compelling legal principle than the concept of equal parenting rights.
The bill went out for a consultation period and the government has changed the original proposal to ensure courts will still take note of the level of parental participation in a child’s life and their preparedness to provide financial support.
The architect of the changes, former family court judge Richard Chisholm, said the government had chosen not to adopt all of his recommendations, but the amendments were positive. ”It is a sensible and moderate measure,” Professor Chisholm said.
Mr McClelland, who has been lobbied extensively by shared-care proponents, said the government remained supportive of mothers and fathers sharing care of their children after marriages failed ”but only where this is safe for the child”.
The Coalition has signalled it will block the measure, forcing the government to court the crossbench for support.