Equal parenting for divorced couples may be scrapped
November 30, 2008 11:00pm
THE controversial and "distressing" equal-time parenting laws for divorced couples could be overhauled, the federal Attorney-General says.
Robert McClelland said some shared-parenting orders that followed relationship breakdowns were "clearly not appropriate and (were) causing extreme distress for children and their parents".highlighted the problems in a series of reports on the family law system. "I'm very aware of media reports and research about the 2006 reforms," Mr McClelland said. "In particular, I have read reports about the impact on children of some parenting orders favouring significant sharing of parenting time. "I assure you that I appreciate the seriousness of all I am hearing ... and that we will be mindful of these views when it comes to formulating new policies and making possible amendments to legislation." Mr McClelland made the remarks during a recent Women's Legal Service family law forum in Brisbane. He confirmed that the Australian Institute of Family Studies, a government statutory authority, had begun a "comprehensive empirical assessment" of how families were faring under the shared parenting regime. The Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act was introduced by the Howard government in 2006 to rectify perceived unfairness in custody orders and assuage concerns about the impact of absent fathers. The changes direct trial judges and magistrates in the federal family law courts to "presume" that "equal shared parental responsibility" is in the best interests of children. This means separating parents are legally bound to jointly attempt to make major decisions on their children's welfare, such as those about health and education. Fifty-50 parenting time is not automatic. But when shared responsibility is imposed (child abuse or family violence cancels the presumption), the courts are required to consider a further order that a child spend equal time with each of the parents. In the Courier-Mail reports, Brisbane former Family Court Judge Tim Carmody, family lawyers, academics and child psychologists said the laws were emotionally damaging children, many of whom lived week-about between the homes of highly conflicted parents.