Letter to the Prime Minister
from The Lone Fathers Association of Australia
The LFAA, as the national peak body representing separated fathers and their children, wishes to inform you of our extreme disappointment with the Report on “Shared Custody” by the House of Representatives Committee on Family and Community Affairs released on 29 December 2003.
While the fathers and children of Australia have asked for bread, the Parliamentary Committee has offered them a stone.
The Committee has failed to address the central issue of the Inquiry, which is shared physical custody. At the same time, it has gone well beyond its Terms of Reference to consider matters it was not asked to consider. The Committee has not, in our view, done its job.
The Committee appears to have been “snowed” by people and organisations with a vested interest in keeping the family law system as it currently is. Submissions went to the Inquiry from the legal community, the Family Court, Relationships Australia, women’s groups, and other institutions that all profit from the existing status quo — while 1,000,000 children in Australia are forced to live separately from their fathers (that is the equivalent of all the children in a city the size of Sydney).
The recommendations of the Committee relating to shared parenting will not, in our view, contribute in any significant way to the achievement of the best interests of Australian children. The Committee has:
- botched the historic opportunity presented by the Inquiry to recommend that Parliament give a clear direction to the Family Court to correct its biased attitude against fathers and in future take seriously the rights of children to be raised on a reasonably equal basis by both their parents; and
- put forward a confused alternative proposal for a “Families Tribunal” which would be of doubtful legality and which, if established under current conditions, would soon come to be dominated by the same group of politically correct lawyers, psychologists, social workers, and departmental officials who have caused such mayhem in the present system.
The recommendations of the Committee on shared custody will not, in our view, do anything to encourage courts in Australia to respect and take seriously the rights of children to be raised on a reasonably equal basis by both their parents. They will not significantly help fathers or their children.
They will not do anything to overcome the already pronounced trend in Australia to a substantially “fatherless society”. And they will not effectively address your personal concerns, expressed at the time the Inquiry was commissioned, about the very large and increasing number of boys being raised to maturity without proper male role models.
The report will probably, if anything, confirm the Family Court in its obduracy in opposing proper parenting by fathers. It will expose increasing numbers of children to the much higher risk of abuse (ten times higher) resulting from being in a sole parent family.
The notions of “primary carer” and the notions of “resident parent” and “non-resident” parent have had their day. These notions have been used as an excuse to perpetrate all sorts of outrages against one of the parents in a couple (usually, but not always, the father). They have been used to separate loving parents from their children, and the children from those parents, deprive fathers of the basic human right to parent their children and children of the basic human right to be parented by both parents, and justify a seriously biased Child Support Scheme.
Once effectively removed from the family by the Family Court, etc. on the basis of antediluvian ideas about “conflict” and/or maternal preference (not of course called that), the ostracised father is hurt, harmed, and humiliated in numerous ways, treated like a potential or actual criminal by government authorities, and may even be financially hounded to his death. The Report by the Parliamentary Committee proposes that even more disadvantages and humiliations should be heaped on to these parents. It is time to call a halt to this nonsense.
In future there should be no such legal entity as a “primary carer” or “resident parent”, but only “parent” (unqualified), with equal responsibilities and, yes, appropriate rights to accompany those responsibilities. Shared parenting and a rebuttable presumption of something like equal parenting time (30% plus) is the only way to achieve this at the present time in Australia. The paradigm shift is essential if anything is to change. This is what the Committee has completely failed to understand.
What children want
When children are asked what time sharing arrangements they would wish to have with their parents, 70% of them typically say that they want equal time with both parents. Not just shared parenting, but equal time. This is what children want.
They do not get anything remotely like it.
The last supposedly major reform of the family law system in Australia, in 1995, which was designed to result in a “rebuttable presumption of shared parenting”, resulted in subsequent years in a actual decline in shared parenting in Australia, from 5% to 3%. That compares with rates of 40% or so in some US States. Acceptance of the present Committee’s recommendations on shared parenting would be quite likely to result in a still further decline, below 3%.
(to be continued next week)
B C Williams BEM JP
J B Carter
[Photo by Tatiana Syrikova