Last week, a television crew from the Japanese public broadcaster visited Sydney to interview family law specialist Justin Dowd, former president of the New South Wales (NSW) Law Society. Japan is considering introducing “joint parental authority,” which recognizes that it’s in the children’s best interests to have both mum and dad remain involved in their care. The Japanese crew chose to come to Australia because of the country’s success in encouraging separated parents to share decisions about raising their kids. This achievement is due to former Prime Minister John Howard’s 2006 reforms promoting “equal shared parental responsibility,” which resulted in a significant increase in care from dads, more shared care, better relations between parents, and less litigation (pdf). The result was improved children’s well-being, according to UNSW research (pdf), and the reforms were “overwhelmingly supported by parents, legal professionals, and family relationship service professionals,” according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. However, Justin Dowd had to tell the Japanese crew that this progress was now at risk. The Labor government has just announced draft legislation that will take Australia back to the dark ages of the winner-takes-all custody model. The Australian Financial Review (AFR) stated that the Albanese government “went back to the future this week” with the proposed laws that would end any notion of shared parental responsibility, shifting the power in divorce battles firmly back into women’s hands.
A two-parent household provides the best home environment for children. (Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock) Where is the mandate for this unheralded political act which will undermine the welfare of children, ramp up hostility between parents, and swell the coffers of lawyers who will benefit from the appalling fallout? In 2007, a retiring family court judge shared with me how the family court had gone astray (pdf). The problem? “The woman has had all the power, the man almost none.” The judge believed that children missed vital contact with both parents due to decisions to award sole custody to the primary carer. “The custodial parent has been all-powerful. She—it’s usually she—has had the power to regulate access, sometimes regardless of court orders. She’s had complete authority to live anywhere, with the child, that she desires. The power to determine the child’s school, church, decisions about day-to-day living, and the power to get a greater slice of the wedding cake. More often than not, that power is exercised unreasonably.”
The Howard reforms very effectively eroded this power, and ever since, feminists have worked feverishly to get it back—regardless of the cost to children. Now comes their reward for marshalling the women’s vote to help Labor regain government. According to the family law being proposed by the Albanese government, the following will no longer be deemed essential in making decisions about children’s care: Ensuring children benefit from meaningful involvement with both parents, children’s right to know and be cared for by both parents, children having the right to spend regular time with parents and other significant people like grandparents, and parents jointly sharing duties and responsibilities for the kids’ care and development. All gone. All the language that provided the scaffolding that enabled children to have divorced dads remain part of their lives is being removed from the legislation. The AFR headline said it all: “Time’s up for ‘equal rights’ in court custody battles.”
Family law professor Patrick Parkinson, who advised the Howard government when the 2006 reforms were introduced, warns that dads will be “cut out” by the proposed family law changes. Parkinson has produced a detailed submission exposing the flaws in the proposed changes. “Under the guise of simplification, it actually involves radical change and radical reversal,” Parkinson says, pointing out that the government is misleading the public in claiming support from various public inquiries for this move. Labor’s Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, is proposing not only to remove “equal shared parental responsibility” from the act but the requirement that courts consider equal time or substantial/significant time as a possible parenting option. Now the first consideration of family law will be promoting safety for the child or carers. That’s hardly a surprise. Feminists have been using the violence card to undermine fathers’ contact with their children since the 2006 laws were first introduced, with constant claims about violent dads putting children at risk. “Any reform of the law needs to be more sophisticated and nuanced than to be premised on the assumption that almost all perpetrators are male and almost all victims are female,” argues Parkinson, yet this is precisely the main thrust of Labor’s proposed new family law. It’s another superb victory for the feminists, one more achievement for their mighty domestic violence juggernaut, which already works a treat stacking the family law system to favour women.
Currently, all it takes is one vague claim that violence could occur for dad to be removed from the home, denied contact with children, and, if he’s lucky, end up paying big money to see his children in our hellish supervised contact services. And mum gains all the benefits and supports that come with victim status. Labor’s latest move did not surprise me—they have form. I watched in horror when Labor regained power in 2007 and immediately appointed a fierce critic of shared custody, psychologist Jennifer McIntosh, to study overnight care by dads of infants and toddlers. Her research results were used to deny dads overnight care of young children, not only in Australia but across the world, before a team of international experts eventually denounced her research. Phillip Ruddock, the Attorney General who implemented the Howard government reforms, pointed out at the time that Labor has always been keen to wind back efforts to promote divorced dads’ involvement with children. “They’ve long been captured by the female lobby determined to retain sole control over their children.”
Ordinary Australians must stand up and prevent this attack on children’s right to be cared for by both parents. We need to convince the politicians currently basking in feminist accolades that we are not letting them slip this one through. Make submissions to the Attorney-General’s Department inquiry, talk to your MPs, and do everything possible to promote public discussion of this vital issue. We can’t afford to sit back and let them get away with unwinding the legal framework that did so much to improve the lives of fathers and their children.
Leave a Reply