The Australian Insititute of Family Studies, evaluation report (pdf download) highlights the need for further changes to the family law scheme, to ensure children have the opportunity to be cared for by both their parents, despite separation.

 The Men’s Rights Agency notes that despite the changes to family law legislation in 2006 – to strengthen the involvement of both parents – it is still a minority of children who are able to spend significant time with each parent.

 The 2006 changes emphasised equal shared parental responsibility and encouraged shared parenting time by instructing the judiciary that they MUST consider equal shared time or substantial contact, but in all decisions the overriding factor remained that the best interest of the child must be taken into account.

 The AIFS report found only 16% of children whose parents had separated between July 2006 and September 2008 had a shared care-time arrangement, with the proportion varying according to the age of the children.

Specifically, such arrangements were experienced by:

 ¦ 8% of children under 3 years old;

 ¦ 20% of children aged 3–4 years;

 ¦ 26% of children aged 5–11 years;

 ¦ 20% of children aged 12–14 years; and

 ¦ 11% of children aged 15–17 years.

 Clearly the 2006 changes, which were criticised at the time as a lost opportunity in clearly protecting a child’s right to keep both parents actively involved in their lives, did not go far enough.  The previous Coalition government pandered to the demands of the Labor Party by watering down the proposed legislation and claiming the need for bipartisan support, despite having control of both houses of parliament. 

 The backlash against the principles of shared and equal parenting was anticipated once the Labor Party gained government, although the viciousness and intensity of hatred against the notion of fathers being part of their children’s lives has still shocked many. Men’s/fathers’ groups have commenced a campaign to counter the minority who seek to ensure children lose contact with one of their parents in their life, most often their father. Early indications from a survey into voter intentions shows the vast majority of fathers even though they voted Labor in the last election will not do so in the next, if Labor moves to rollback shared parenting.

 Most parents do understand that equal shared parenting may not mean spending exactly equal time with children, with the practicalities of work commitments and location taken on board, but it should mean that both parents are regarded as equally important to a child’s well being and development. Every effort should be made by governments and society to ensure both parents and children have an opportunity to maximise the time they are able to spend together, instead of government interference which grants one parent superiority over the other. When governments forcibly take over the role of defacto and step parent through its distribution of taxpayers’ funds based on single parent status and percentage care of child, whilst regarding the ousted parent as nothing more than a walking chequebook it is hardly surprising that the remaining parent will attempt to prevent children’s contact with the other. To do so provides a financial benefit, despite depriving the child of a parent.

 Unfortunately some parents resort to making false allegations to achieve their aims. The call to remove the provision in the family law legislation to punish such allegations by making cost orders against the accuser should be resisted, otherwise the law is condoning the use of perjury and false allegations, which can ruin so many lives, so easily.

 Family law and social policy changes do need to be further enhanced to ensure children continue to have the opportunity to be with both parents as much as possible, accounting for practicalities, to avoid the situation reported by the AIFS where “most children [still] spent most or all nights with their mother, with one-third spending all nights with their mother. Of the children who never stayed overnight with their father, two-thirds saw their father during the day and the other third did not see him at all.

 In 2006 polls showed the Australian public overwhelmingly supported shared and equal parenting. According to this latest report “most parents in the 2009 survey believed that spending approximately half the time with each parent can be appropriate even for children under 3 years old”.

 The Australian public is just as keen now to see shared parenting become the standard norm rather than the outdated 80/20 residency/contact regime that used to exist.

 Politicians should be aware the next election will have shared parenting high on the list of concerns should government consider rolling back the current shared parenting provisions

 For further information  Contact Sue Price, Men’s Rights Agency, on 0409 269 621