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Shared Parenting

Oct 252014
 

Divorce-Advice-F4EThere was recently an article by David Koch in the Daily Telegraph entitled “Simple money moves to make after Divorce“,  advising the 50,000 couples of divorce in Australia each year on how to financially prepare for divorce.

Whilst some of the suggestions make sense, and in all honesty are basic common-sense, Fathers4Equality would like to put forward alternate approaches not only designed to ensure that each member of the marriage gets a fair share of the spoils in the event of divorce, but where possible, that you both can find enough common ground (as its in your own best interest)  to limit the huge costs associated with the simple process of getting a divorce.

Although divorce in Australia these days is what’s called no-fault-divorce, for too many people it is not no-fee divorce, and as a shared parenting advocacy group, we all too frequently witness couples who would have worked hard for decades to get a nice car, a dream holiday or to pay for those special items that enrich the lives of their children, and yet they wouldn’t think twice about throwing all these savings away, because of the heat and resentment that drives so many people in divorce.

Let us be clear here. Fathers4Equality understands the emotional dynamic of divorce. We don’t blame the parents involved. But more on that later.

1. Protect what’s yours

David Koch: A few simple steps are all that’s needed to protect yourself in the short term. There’s plenty of time to work through the bigger things, like who gets the house, later. Take your money out of any joint accounts, cancel or halt any joint credit cards and change your online banking passwords to avoid any nasty surprises if things get out of hand. Is your salary about to hit the joint account? Speak to your employer about getting it shifted. And if you have to get out of the house quick smart, round up any personal valuables, just in case.

Fathers4Equality: In general, good, practical advice. But of course if these actions catch the other partner unaware and off-guard, it could likely lead to huge mis-trust from the get-go. And who is to say that you own this personal valuables outright, or that the money that you have taken out of the joint accounts was all yours? We are of the view that this is a high risk tactic, that sets the stage for an acrimonious divorce, that will only end up costing you much more in the end.

We would suggest that all bank accounts are frozen, that credit cards are halted, and that you take a video audit of all the household items, and where possible, find the invoices of the original cost of these ietms, and from which account they were paid from.

If divorce can be foreseen long before it will actually happen, it would be prudent to avoid joint bank accounts altogether, except for one joint account for household expenses, which you would each contribute to on an equal basis weekly. These avoids so much confusion later on.

2. Dig out the documents

David Koch: It’s crucial to secure copies of all important financial documentation immediately. Don’t wait around only to find your partner has hidden or tampered with the family files. If things get messy, you’ll want to be fully across your finances.

Fathers4Equality: Good point, but make sure you copy these documents, rather than remove them from the premises. This is again a matter of building some trust, but at the end of the day, it will end up costing more money to recover these documents via lawyers, so transparency is the best policy.

3. Get a family law lawyer

David Koch: Find a good family lawyer fast. Know any lawyers or had a friend go through a divorce recently? Chances are they’ll be able to recommend someone, but if not do some research.

If you’re thinking about going without a lawyer, remember a marriage is a legal agreement and undoing it is a complex and formal process. Even if things are expected to be amicable, your partner could still engage a lawyer so it’s best to be prepared and know your rights and obligations from the start.

Fathers4Equality:  Wrong, wrong, wrong, unless you are one of the super-wealthy families in this country.

And in contrast to David Koch’s assertion, marriage in practice in not a legal agreement. It is riddled with exceptions which one my find staples of contract law, and promises made prior to marriage and during marriage amount to NOTHING, even in many cases when deceit is involved.

No, to put it more accurately, marriage is an emotional bond, and a financial agreement. It is these two powerful forces that you need to negotiate to divorce successfully, without effectively destroying the remainder of your future. In short, you must constrain the emotion, and stay focussed on the bottom line, which includes limiting costs just as much as it does increase your percentage of the marital assets.

Fathers4Equality: Some other suggestions we can offer.

Gifting of Household or other personable valuables.

If you are a male, we find a disturbing trend where men leave the family home, and in some mis-guided gesture of chivalry, gift all the household goods to the soon-to-be ex-wife. As a male myself, I can understand the urge, as foolish as it is, but it must be pointed out that this gesture ALWAYS backfires on the male. Gifting household goods will not necessary be accounted for when you are trying to split the net proceeds of the sale of the family home, or when negotiating Child Support.

Fair is fair is fair, and you must be as fair to yourself as you should be to the soon-to-be ex-wife.

Sub-conscious hopes of reconciliation

We have one member who is Australian but was born and raised in India. He came to Australia, worked very hard, and at one point went back to India and married via an arrangement. His wife was studying to be a doctor, had enormous expenses to pay, and this therefore became his financial responsibility.

Well, at some point she called him from India (while still studying) and told him that she met someone else, and wanted a divorce. She offered however to pay him back what was at that stage about (AU) $250,000 in his support at that point in time.

He refused to take her money. In fact, he insisted that he wanted to continue to pay for the rest of her expenses until she finally graduated.

I can’t tell you how many discussions I had with him to try and understand his motivation, but I (along with a group of other F4E members), could only conclude that sub-consciously, this was his attempt at winning her back.

Well, I bumped into him a about 6 months ago. The long and the short of it is that she graduated, she is working, she has re-married, and she had only called him once since his final payment to her. He is living in  shabby one-bedroom apartment, is all alone, is a really great fellow, but has destroyed his future because of this mis-guided sense that money and support can buy back love. It can’t and it won’t.

Binding Financial Agreements (pre/post nuptial agreements)

Do you know that you can enter into a Binding Financial Agreement even after you are married. Fathers4Equality finds these agreements the most sensible thing you can do before getting married, but if you are on rocky ground, why not start negotiating while you are still on okay terms?

Counselling & Leaving Lawyers Out of it.

If I was your lawyer during your divorce proceedings and told you that your ex has agreed to give you an extra $50,000 more than you you asked for, and end proceedings here and now, would you take it?

No need to answer, but you would be silly not to be tempted. Well, you would be surprised at how many couples spend over $100,000 in divorce proceedings, typically over items that have very little financial value themselves.

Although easy to say, when considering a divorce, be prepared to let the other side get an extra $20,000 more than what you think they are entitled to, if that also provides you with an extra $20,000, or $30,000, or $40,000.

You see, divorce should not be about “it’s not fair that he/she gets that!”.

It should be about “What can I do to get the most in assets, money and a better future for me and my kids.”

Fairness is a nebulous concept that will drive you to devastation. Think like an accountant, and imagine that you are the client of this accountant. Acting in the third person can sometimes make it easier to listen to common sense.

So if you can, listen to the inner-accountant in you, and remember that that $100,000 that you may pay in legal bills for divorce, does not deserve to go towards another Caribbean holiday house for the Judge and lawyers involved.

This money belongs to you and your kids. Keep your eye on the ball and off your heart, and remember that you have a huge history ahead of you, and its cheaper and healthier to start your future sooner rather than later, and richer instead of poorer.

And one final point on family law solicitors. Always remember that the more you litigate, the more money they make. Although they are not supposed to needlessly extend divorce proceedings, in many cases they do, because its just human nature. So think for yourself where possible. Don’t take every bit of legal advise you receive as gospel.

Jun 272014
 

child-support-agency-mistakes-to-avoid-themWhile Tony Abbott was on the hustings during the last election campaign, one of the lesser known commitments he made was to hold a Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s Child Support system, if he won office.

Well win he did, but the exact nature of his election commitment was never really made clear. Why was another child support inquiry required? Who exactly was the existing system unfair against? Was it the dads, the mums, the kids, or was it everyone?

Speak to most dads and they will tell you that the Child Support system in this country is seriously flawed, with unrealistically high child support sums being demanded, in many cases in a punitive fashion, from over-stretched fathers who have already lost the house and a significant amount of their assets in divorce proceedings.

These same fathers are then hit by a calculated child support sum that over-inflates the cost of raising children in one household, while completely ignoring the cost of raising children in another.

And for most dads, this is the real issue with child support in this country. Its not about not paying your part of your children’s expenses. It’s not about wanting to see their kids only to reduce the child support you pay. It’s not about denying your ex any child support as a form of revenge or financial abuse. It has nothing to do with these sordid and fanciful notions that seem to exist only in the minds of apparent expert academics, or the always quotable spokespersons for one or another single-mothers group.

However if you attend the current Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Support or read through its daily transcripts, you will see that like all family law inquiries, this has been flooded by the same-old self-proclaimed experts, with the same old claims and demands.

For instance, Relationships Australia has told the inquiry that some parents are insisting on shared custody just so they can avoid paying child support, as if having a child living with you on a shared custody basis is somehow free or void of expenses.

Further to these claims, the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children has told the inquiry that some fathers seek custody of children one day a week, or every second weekend, just to get a 24 per cent “discount’’ on maintenance payments. It is a sad reflection on this advocacy group that that don’t realise that fathers too want to see their children…because they are their children, just like mothers.

“We remain completely unconvinced that 24 per cent discount in child-support payments in exchange for as little as 13 per cent care is fair or equitable,’’ the council’s submission says. “We are concerned that the significant and disproportional outcome is an economic driver, which is contradictory to the ‘best interest of the child’.’’

According to this group, maintaining a child’s bedroom, or a wardrobe of clothes, or a computer, or paying for your child’s weekend activities, and in most cases all of the above, is completely free and without cost, if you happen to be a father.

Listening to the shrill of commentary from the same old voices, this Inquiry, just like Tony Abbott’s commitment prior to the last election, is an exercise in futility, not meant to fix any specific problem. As it tries to be all things to all people, this Inquiry will end up with a eclectic mix of policy suggestions, to the anger of many and dissatisfaction of all, but at the end of the day it would do little to address the genuine concerns of many men, women and children forced to deal with this lumbering government instrument that like most things with government, was a good idea to begin with, but has gone and cannot be fixed by wishy-washy promises from politicians who don’t understand the problem to begin with.

Ash Patil

 

Jun 182014
 

overnight care for toddler in shared parenting arrangementA US child psychologist has entered a bitter debate on toddler sleep-overs by warning that young children from separated families could suffer brain damage by sleeping over with their father if their mother is the primary caregiver.

Psychologist Penelope Leach has made the explosive statement that separation from mothers “reduces brain development” and could lead to “unhealthy attachment issues”. She has offered no evidence to back up her claims however, relying on her apparent expert opinion and observations.

Dr Leach, whose parenting books have sold millions, says even one night away from mum, if she is the primary caregiver, could cause lasting damage.

Discredited Research

These sentiments follow the now condemned research carried out by Australian psychologist Dr Jen McIntosh, which found that toddlers separated from their mother during sleep time, were more stressed. The research used by Dr McIntosh to make these claims has since been roundly condemned as unsound, non-scientific, non-longitudinal, and methodically compromised, and many argued that her research was of little value since it was so poorly structured. It should be noted that McIntosh’s conclusion have not been supported by any other similar studies since.

The Influence of McIntosh and Co on Shared Parenting laws

The influence however of the McIntosh study, as flawed as it was, on Australia’s family law system has been so profound that barristers have a special phrase to describe the common experience of losing the battle for some overnight care of toddlers – they joke they’ve been “McIntoshed”. But for the fathers concerned it is no joking matter.

The McIntosh era dates back to 2010 when the Labor government commissioned her to lead an investigation into the impact on preschoolers of overnight contact in their father’s care. Many are of the view that McIntosh was commissioned by the Labor government, precisely because she had made no secret that she was opposed to Australia’s then-recently enacted Shared Parenting laws.

Condemned as amateurish and transparent  

Ash Patil from Fathers4Equality called the McIntosh research “trojan horse advocacy which was undone by the fact that the study was so poorly done. The study had no redeeming features, it was a complete mess and it looked like a rush job which did not even do the basics like have a proper control group. It can best be described as amateurish and quite transparent in its goal.”

Sonja Hastings, editor of Articles About Men claimed that “I think McIntosh started out with the conclusion, and then she made her research fit her ideology, and I think there is no hiding from that fact when you read the study.”

“She even avoids addressing the most obvious questions that come from her research. For instance, what about sleeping at grandparents, or at daycare, or in another room, or while mum is in the kitchen. It is a case of ideology trumping common sense and healthy development dynamics in all families.”

Likewise with Psychologist Penelope Leach’s claims on brain damage for sleep-overs with dad, a lot of people remain unconvinced.

Dr Leach first caused controversy in the 1970s when she released her book, Your Baby & Child: From Birth To Age Five, which suggested that only mothers could care adequately for a child and a father’s role is secondary.

Dr Leach says shared custody is being treated as a right rather than considering what is best for the child.

Celebrities like Louis CK have spoken about the difficulties faced sharing custody of children. Louis CK continually talks about how he would be nothing without his two daughters.

While fathers’ groups have called the comments by Dr Leach ‘absolute poison’, Oliver James, a trained clinical child psychologist, journalist and TV presenter, said Dr Leach was providing “good advice.”

“All the evidence suggests that younger children should not be separated from their primary caregiver who, in the vast majority of cases, is the mother,” he told the Independent. “If the child has a really strong attachment to both parents, there might be a case for exploring whether it really matters if they have sleep- overs at the father’s. But in most cases, you should do nothing to disrupt the relationship with the primary caregiver. To do so can affect the child’s brain development.

110 Leading International Experts on Child development

However,  according to a recently published academic paper endorsed by 110 leading international experts, it is not the case that sharing of overnight care of infants is problematic. The paper, Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A consensus report was published in February in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

It is backed by leading Australian academics including Don Edgar, the former head of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Judy Cashmore, Associate Professor in Socio-Legal Studies at Sydney University and Barry Nurcombe, Emeritus Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Queensland.

This article analyses existing research and finds that infants commonly develop attachment relationships with more than one care giver and concludes that in normal circumstances children are likely to do better if they have overnight contact with both parents.

It also finds that depriving young children of the opportunity to stay overnight with their fathers could compromise the quality of developing father-child relationships.

Fathers4Equality echoes this compelling research by stressing that unscientific dogma being pushed by zealouts  like Leach and McIntosh is what ultimately is so harmful to our young children, by denying them an equal and meaningful relationship with both parents, at a time when they need it the most.

May 182014
 

jen-mcintosh-exposed-as-scientific-fraudOf the eight studies done to date on the effects of overnight care by non-resident parents on very young children, seven of them show either no adverse effects or that overnights are associated with improved outcomes. That leaves the 2010 study by McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher and Wells. To say that it’s a seriously flawed piece of work is to put it mildly. That it’s become the touchstone for the anti-dad crowd to continue their efforts to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children comes as no surprise first because the study can easily be read to do just that and second because the anti-dad crowd’s never much cared for intellectual scruples.

The study, that many call the “pre-schooler study,” was conducted for the office of the Australian Attorney General, and was based on data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Now, the LSAC has a good bit of heft to it, comprised as it is of data gathered from some 10,000 children. But McIntosh, et al didn’t use all those kids or all that data. Indeed, constructing their study as they did, some samples they used had as few as 14 children in them. Most tellingly, “the negative data on which the woozle (that children experience problems with attachment to a parent if they have too many overnights with the other parent) is based came from some of the smallest samples in the study.”

And, speaking of the study’s samples, they turn out to bear no relationship to the general population. As Dr. Linda Nielsen points out, “Most of these parents had never been married to one another (90% for infants and 60% for toddlers) and 30% of the infants’ parents had never even lived together. This means the findings should not be generalized to the general population of divorced parents.” So, in addition to everything else, the findings of the McIntosh study, even if they had validity, turn out to be useless in any but the narrowest of situations. They can’t be applied parents generally or to divorced parents or to those who’ve lived together for long.

 For that proposition, the study is entirely worthless, and it gets close to that status for others.
Worse, despite the large population of children in the LSAC, McIntosh, et al simply failed to compare certain groups. For example, as Nielsen points out, “this study never compared the children who never overnighted to the children who only occasionally overnighted. That is, the study never addressed the question: Is occasional overnighting better or worse than never overnighting?” For that proposition, the study is entirely worthless, and it gets close to that status for others.

For example, the study takes as a given “that infants form a “primary” attachment to only one parent and later form a “secondary” attachment to their other parent.” To say the least, that’s a very doubtful assertion. It’s contradicted by considerable social science on the issue that Warshak, et al detail in his paper, but McIntosh and colleagues went ahead and assumed it anyway.

Still worse, McIntosh, et al decided to define “shared care” completely differently than do the rest of social scientists who study this issue. For most such scientists, “shared care” means a minimum of 35% to 40% parenting time for each parent. But inexplicably, for McIntosh and her fellow researchers, it meant as little as five nights per month with the non-resident parent, or about 16.5% of parenting time. Why they changed the definition so many social scientists work with as a matter of course remains a mystery.

Worst of all, the authors used six measures to determine whether a child was being adversely affected by overnights with dad, and four of them have never been validated as actually reflecting adverse consequences. Really, that’s what they did. So McIntosh, et al looked at “irritability, persistence (at a particular task), wheezing, and wariness/watchfulness about the mother’s where-abouts” to measure whether or not a child was stressed by overnighting with its father. The problem is that, no one else had ever used those to measure what McIntosh, et al sought to measure. They’d been validated for other purposes, but not for that. The researchers simply made them up for the purpose of evaluating the stress, or lack thereof, on children of overnights.

That alone renders the study essentially meritless. No one can say a particular type of behavior evidences stress in an infant unless the behavior has been independently shown to indicate that. But on at least one of the McIntosh group’s measures, their conclusions may in fact be the exact opposite of what they ought to be.

The idea that a child’s watchfulness, i.e. its tendency to keep an eye on its mother, indicates stress on the child’s part was invented out of whole cloth by McIntosh, et al. But watchfulness has been validated as an indicator of another type of behavior — readiness to begin talking. As Nielsen points out, watchfulness by a pre-verbal child has been shown to indicate “that the infant has more highly developed ways of communicating and is readier to begin talking.”

So, in McIntosh’s study, children with frequent overnights exhibited greater watchful behavior and to the researchers, that indicated heightened stress even though the test had never been validated for that. What that behavior did indicate was that the children with frequent overnights were in fact more advanced in their communication skills than were the children with fewer overnights. In other words, contrary to McIntosh et al’s claims, overnights, at least on that measure were beneficial to the kids. Needless to say, the researchers didn’t mention the fact and instead claimed the opposite.

Not content with claiming a single measure indicated children’s stress when it doesn’t, the researchers moved on to others. For example, wheezing. Mothers were asked a single question about whether their child wheezed more than four times a week. “The LSAC researchers had used this question as part of a scale to assess health or sleep problems,” but McIntosh, et al decided, quite without foundation that wheezing meant stress and that stress came from overnights. Indeed, at least one study, characteristically unmentioned by McIntosh, found the opposite to be true.

The same held true for two other measures — irritability and persistence at a task — the researchers used to claim that children with frequent overnights experienced greater stress than those with fewer or none.

In short, the irritability and persistence scales were not validated measures for assessing infant stress, or developmental problems, or emotional regulation difficulties.

As Nielsen points out, irritability can result from virtually anything and lack of persistence from ADHD. But none of that prevented McIntosh, et al from claiming that heightened irritability and lower persistence were indicators of stress and that stress came from overnights with dad.

By now it should be clear that the pre-schooler study is essentially useless as a guide to anything, much less establishing policy on parenting time following divorce or separation. As many social scientists have pointed out since its publication, it’s simply too flawed and its data too ambiguous to make it worth much in any context. But in the three plus years since its publication, it’s been anything but the doorstop it qualifies to be. Unlike its more scrupulous fellows in the field of overnights for young children, the pre-schooler study swept the world of family law and became the Bible on the subject for judges, lawyers, custody evaluators, mediators and the like. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

And that’s a story for my next post

Read More

May 212010
 

May 21, 2010: SHARED parenting rules used by the Family Court in divorce cases were bad for many children, an Adelaide study has found.

The shared parenting model was introduced in 2006 by the Howard Government in response to lobbying by men’s rights groups, to replace the historical practice of the courts awarding custody to mothers.

A UniSA research paper based on interviews of children from divorced families has found the one-size-fits-all practice now favoured by the courts was focused on what parents wanted rather than children’s wellbeing.

“The Parliament (in 2006) was moving to address outspoken parents in the community but addressing parents’ concerns can ignore what the children want,” the author of the research paper, lecturer Dr Alan Campbell, said.

“When you get into the court system, issues like the safety of children, what they want and getting them into the best environment they can be in are subjugated to the parent’s needs.

“Children (in the interviews) felt betrayed that their interests were not considered in the court process.”

Dr Campbell said there had been “considerable” concern by academics that the law change would put some children into dangerous family situations.

The Federal Government is reviewing the changes because of, in part, the death of four-year-old Melbourne girl Darcey Freeman who, in 2009, was thrown to her death from a bridge, allegedly by her father.

Her mother had been too fearful to tell the courts her husband was violent because she thought the information would be used against her.

Dr Campbell said other children were physically safe but felt depressed, stressed, confused and suffered adjustment problems.

Dr Campbell said shared custody arrangements made without court intervention were often positive.

“What courts need to do is be allowed to look at a broad range of options, including shared parenting,” he said.

“The court needs to find out from the child – `this is what it is like for me, this is what I’m thinking and this is what I’m feeling’, then the adults.

##Special Note: Although not mentioned in this article, Dr Campbell is a close associate of Barbara Biggs, a well known activist who believes that all men are a predatory threat to their children. It should also be noted that these outcomes have been discredited by the largest study on this topic of its kind, released by the AIFS only months ago, involving longitudinal studies with over 22,000 parents and children. This study seems fanciful and loaded with opinion and driven by womens’ rights ideologies rather than by any credible research.

Miles Kemp

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/study-finds-shared-parenting-detrimental-to-children/story-e6frea83-1225869346792

Mar 232010
 

Fathers often acquire the status of second-class parents after a split. Let’s enshrine in law a presumption of shared parenting.

guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 March 2010

Martin was the ideal father. There at the birth of his two children, took his share of the broken nights, mopped up during potty training and read the stories at night. He loved his kids and they loved him. Then he stopped loving their mum and she stopped loving him. It just happened, nobody else involved. The children didn’t understand what was going on. They were too young and couldn’t believe it when suddenly, Dad wasn’t there anymore and nobody was able to explain it to them.

So what had happened? Simply what happens to a quarter of the children in this country. The ideal family had collapsed, and parental anger intervened to rob the children of half their family. This example is not as rare as you might think. Every year, in excess of 20,000 families find co-operating after separation so impossible that they end up in an adversarial family court system that seldom leads to much more than legal bills and acrimony. When a marriage or relationship splits up there is still an assumption that one parent, normally the mother, will do the parenting and the other will be there to pay the bills. There is a need for more support for the discarded Martins of this world, and increasingly the Martinas.

Fathers often try and stay close to their children’s school or nursery following a divorce, fully expecting to continue to be a parent. Sometimes they move back in with their parents, as they simply can’t afford anything more. They become the “non-resident” parent with no tax breaks, child benefits or rights to housing, and acquire too easily the de facto status of second-class parent.

And even when separations are relatively amicable, other factors can lead to exhausting court battles over the children. Who owned the house? Who would get the car? The children become pawns in an adult game that can become so bitter that one parent denies contact with the children without any thought to how they might feel.

Family and friends are forced to take sides. Battlelines become drawn and lawyers engaged in a legal system unknown to most of the population and hidden behind its cloak of secrecy. Parents who until their separation played a full and active role become reduced to seeing their children under supervision once a fortnight in contact centres.

It is not unusual for the court processes to last years and cost the parents tens of thousands of pounds – money that could have been dedicated to bringing up their children. Those without financial resources or access to legal aid often give up and walk away. The cost to the state is even higher through the expense of the court system and the destabilising effects on the children, whose education and happiness will be affected.

There are lots of Martins and Martinas. My MP told me about the first one she met. “He seemed credible but the courts weren’t letting him near his kids. There had to be something suspicious. Then I met a second dad and a third and I realised the system was slow, unwieldy and unfair – mostly to the children involved who were being denied the love and support of a parent. It wasn’t the dads who were the issue, it was our system.”

Other countries, Australia being a notable example, have addressed these problems and are striving to help parents avoid the courts and the adversarial system that pits parent against parent. A presumption of shared parenting enshrined in law would send the signal that both parents need to continue to play a significant role in their children’s lives post–separation. More information need to be made available to parents before they disappear into the court process to build a fairer benefit system that doesn’t discriminate against non-resident parents.

Increasingly, men are stepping up to the plate as parents and are taking their responsibilities seriously. An EOC survey in 2007 showed that mothers recorded an average of 2 hours 32 minutes per day looking after their own children, compared with 2 hours 16 minutes by fathers. This trend is expected to continue. As a society, we need to make it as unacceptable for a child to lose a parent as it is to put them in a car without a seatbelt.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/22/fathers-rights-family-breakup-children

Mar 142010
 

The shared parenting laws central to the 2006 Family Law reforms are in need of some fixing, says Professor Belinda Fehlberg, but there is continuing debate on how best to move forward. By David Scott.

Children are often at the centre of disputes between separated parents in Australia, and they were at the centre of major changes to the Family Law Reform Act of 1995, which introduced the principle that children have the right to know, be cared for, communicate and spend time with both their parents, except when contrary to their best interests.

These amendments were significantly extended by far-reaching changes in 2006, which introduced the presumption (or starting point) of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’.

Only when the presumption of equal shared responsibility applied did the court have to consider ordering equal shared time. Other changes were designed to encourage separated parents to reach agreements without recourse to the legal system.

However, three years on from the most recent reforms, the scorecard on how the latest amendments are working is very mixed, according to family law expert and Melbourne Law School Professor Belinda Fehlberg.

“The 2006 reforms were aimed at encouraging separated parents to share care and responsibility for their children more equally and without going to court, if this was safe. In reality, shared care means more time for children with fathers, which is not instinctively a bad thing,” she says.

“However what we’re now discovering is that shared parenting is sometimes being used in a way that is harmful to children.”

It appears that 2010 will be something of a watershed year in the family law arena, with reports having been already released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Family Law Council, as well as a report on the Family Courts’ treatments of family violence by former Family Court judge Professor Richard Chisholm.

Professor Fehlberg herself is in the middle of completing a three-year longitudinal study into post-separation parenting. She says given all the reports on the subject are so detailed and complex, it’s little surprise there are misunderstandings about what they say and what the next step is for shared parenting arrangements.

“Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis claimed, after the release of the AIFS report, that there was no need for more reform, based on the AIFS’ broad conclusion that in general the 2006 reforms are working well. He also suggested that the AIFS’ findings were inconsistent with Chisholm’s.

“His view is a vastly oversimplified summary of both reports and overlooks key consistencies between them,” she says.

Professor Fehlberg says a major consistency is that fathers have been encouraged by the 2006 reforms to seek shared care and that mothers often feel pressured into it.

“Shared care isn’t the norm but it is increasing, especially among litigating parents – up from two per cent to 13 per cent. This is worrying as litigating parents often aren’t good at managing day-to-day negotiations and interactions needed for successful shared care.

“It’s also clear that many people now mistakenly assume the starting point is that children should spend equal time with each parent. Parents and lawyers report fathers feeling entitled to 50-50 care and believe the reforms have favoured fathers.

“The legal starting point is in fact equal shared parental responsibility for major decision-making. The current misconception of parental rights as equal time has led some fathers to seek more time with children as a way to reduce child support payments rather than out of a wish to care for them. Separated mothers are receiving less of the family property than pre-2006, worsening what is often their more disadvantaged financial position.

“These reports consistently find that shared parenting reforms discourage mothers from raising family violence concerns due to the emphasis on facilitating the child’s relationship with the father, and the perception that family courts will order shared care anyway,” she says.

It’s also clear from the reports that a more diverse group now uses shared care, including a substantial minority with high parental conflict, substance abuse and/or mental health issues and concerns for their children’s safety.

“The evidence includes emotional and psychological harm in high-conflict families, as well as risks to children arising from constant disruption, parental neglect, violence, mental ill-health or substance misuse issues.”

The reports consistently find that shared care is not in children’s best interests in these sorts of cases.

“Shared care is inappropriate where there are real safety concerns. Yet the AIFS found that parents with safety concerns were just as likely to have shared care as parents without such concerns.

“The reports clearly show that we need to change the message so the emphasis is on what works best for each child, rather than a one-size-fits-all emphasis on equal time.”

For Professor Fehlberg, a more positive way forward involves careful consideration of all the available data, acknowledging the important consistencies across the recent bodies of work, and acting on these to support children.

“Our data shows that children appear to fare better when shared parenting arrangements are mutually agreed to, while parents reporting less positive experiences are describing conflicted parental relationships, lack of paternal competence and greater involvement with family law system professionals.

“It’s clear we do need to change the law. Chisholm rightly suggests that equal parental responsibility needs to be distinguished from shared time. We need to make clear that there is no one preferred parenting arrangement, and re-focus on which of the available options is in the particular child’s best interests,” she says.

“The question remains whether, in an election year, the political will exists to act on strong and consistent research messages to improve the lives of many of our children,” says Professor Fehlberg.

BELINDA FEHLBERG

http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/news/6049/

Mar 072010
 

EXCLUSIVE

AN EXPLOSION in online romances is making the toughest Family Court issue even tougher, with more divorcees than ever wanting to move their children interstate or overseas to be with a new partner.

JOEL GIBSON
March 7, 2010

A world-first study of 80 parents involved in relocation disputes shows online dating is having a devastating impact on already-broken homes, putting an average distance of 1646 kilometres between children and the parent left behind.

Parents are being bankrupted, selling their homes, losing contact with their children or travelling long distances only to have visitation rights denied.

The average legal cost for settled divorces is $50,000, and $75,000 for court cases.

Results of the study suggest some parents are not upfront about new relationships when they go to court asking to relocate their children.

University of Sydney researchers have been following 40 men and 40 women involved in 71 relocation cases since 2006. They say the growth of internet romances is combining with a rise in broken relationships, increases in international mobility and the tyranny of distances in Australia to make relocation a more vexed issue than ever.

”Internet-based introduction services have radically increased the opportunities for separated parents to meet new people, and the connections thus formed are supported by very cheap modes of communication such as email, internet ‘chat’ programs, and web-based telephone or video communication,” Professor Patrick Parkinson, Associate Professor Judy Cashmore and Judi Single wrote in an article for US journal Family Law Quarterly.

While less than a quarter of women surveyed said they wanted to move due to a new relationship, about a third of men believed it was a factor in their ex-partner’s decision. ”The fathers’ accounts indicated the possibility that in certain cases the existence of a new partner might not have been disclosed to the court,” the authors wrote.

The legal costs of relocating often reached hundreds of thousands of dollars and the costs of maintaining contact with children were as much as $15,000 a year.

This led the authors to urge lawyers and judges to test if the moves were realistic before encouraging them.

Relocation disputes are ”the San Andreas fault of family law”, according to former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm. They are the most difficult decisions judges must make.

The disputes end in expensive court cases more than any other family law matter, with 59 per cent decided by a judge (four times the general rate). And it is almost always the mother who wants to move, making gender a major issue in the debate.

A High Court decision last week swung the pendulum slightly back in favour of parents wanting to relocate.

In a high-profile case code-named ”Rosa v Rosa”, a mother had been forced to remain in a Queensland caravan park, depressed and living on welfare payments, after she moved there from Sydney for her husband’s mining career and they separated. The High Court said the decision was wrong and ordered a fresh hearing.

Judges will have to ask whether an arrangement is ”practicable” before they can make orders for equal time in future.

About 23,000 divorces, half involving children, are granted in Australia each year.

http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/secret-web-of-sorrow-when-parents-move-on-20100306-ppn6.html

Feb 062010
 

Shared parenting by separated couples is not a perfect solution but that’s no reason to scrap it.

TWO stories last week resonated with a familiar timbre, that of shrill feminists yelling for men’s blood. The first was the hysterical reaction to Tony Abbott’s Women’s Weekly interview in which he expressed his opinion on what is both a father’s right and duty; the moral education of his children .

The second story has a similar thread running through it, with much graver implications. It concerns shared parenting by separated or divorced couples, which was a basis for family law reforms in 2006. According to some commentators, it is a failed experiment.

The reaction is puzzling since it goes against a supposed feminist notion of equality: that fathers and mothers have equal responsibilities and roles in their children’s upbringing.

This story has been building for almost a year and, depending on what you read, shared parenting is (according to this newspaper) “on the way out” or to be “rolled back” or “brings little change”. According to The Sydney Morning Herald: “Shared care failed children.”

Adding fuel to this is a report by Richard Chisholm and a psychologist, Jennifer McIntosh, that concludes the reforms of 2006 have not benefited children, especially in acrimonious situations, which one might have thought was obvious.

Since only 16 per cent of parents practise shared parenting — and, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, most arrangements work well — one wonders what Chisholm is talking about. To work well, they must be non-acrimonious.

But there is more. According to Chisholm many parents — read mothers who still are the main carers of children post-separation — are being “coerced” into shared arrangements by fear, and by a presumption on the part of the father that shared parenting equals 50-50 shared time.

According to Chisholm, an unacceptable number of children in court-mandated shared care are exposed to unnecessary levels of acrimony and possible violence.

However the legislation is clear that where shared care has been ordered by a court, the presumption of shared care is dependent on there being no violence; putting a child into a possibly violent situation contradicts the law. So what is all this about about?

Shared care and domestic violence are separate issues. Children should not be exposed at any level. But there is definitely a risk of violence to children due to family breakdown and not simply from the father, but from the mother and other males.
None of this bothers those who want the 2006 reforms abolished. For them mothers must have autonomy even at the expense of a child’s relationship with its father. They see a way to this amid Labor’s ascendancy. Single-mothers’ groups such as the National Council for Children Post-Separation, backed by feminists and some journalists, have deliberately muddled the two issues of violence and shared care.

Chisholm recommends extensive dismantling of the 2006 reforms. In doing so, he seems to have exceeded his terms of reference, which were strictly limited to inquiring into matters before the federal Family Court in which issues of family violence arise.

According to Richard Egan of Family Voice Australia, “Chisholm proposes radical changes that could profoundly affect all separating couples with children, not just those where family violence is an issue. The report proposes removing the qualifiers `equal’ and `shared’ from the key provision introduced by the 2006 reforms. These provisions affirm as a fundamental presumption of family law `that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child’.

“Chisholm’s recommendation would see this key provision reduced to the meaningless statement that both parents are presumed to have `parental responsibility’, but not necessarily in equal measure.”

As for 50-50 time, Attorney-General Robert McClelland has repeated Chisholm’s claim that it is an erroneous concept in practice. “. . . Regrettably, there have been instances where people have resolved cases, settled cases, on the assumption that the law intends an equal split of time.”

But the law does require the courts, when proposing to make orders for equal responsibility, to consider making an order to provide for the child to spend equal time with each of the parents, if this is considered to be practicable and in the child’s best interests.

The AIFS reports that of those children whose parents separated between July 2006 and September 2008, one in three never stay overnight with their father and one in nine never see their father. That is an improvement on the situation prior to 2006.

Before 2006 there was a de facto presumption in favour of an “80:20 outcome” in which, usually, the mother was given care of the child for most of the time with the father being given care of the child for every second weekend and half of school holidays.

Chisholm’s recommendations would only increase the incidence of practical fatherlessness already being experienced by too many Australian children, by depriving the court of any guidance favouring equal shared responsibility.

One suspects the claim some children in shared arrangements are unnecessarily exposed to domestic violence due to mothers being afraid to speak up is a sham to cover the number of false claims of such violence, which interestingly have dropped since 2006.

McClelland has said the catalyst for the Chisholm report was the death of little Darcey Freeman last year, allegedly at the hands of her father. According to this newspaper, her mother was intimidated into surrendering her.

Curiously the intimation is that only fathers who intimidate pose a risk. They don’t. When Gabriela Garcia jumped off the same Melbourne bridge with her baby later last year, no one began an inquiry.

These deaths are tragedies, the product of despair and madness, not a catalyst for gender wars.

If we want to fix child abuse that is another issue. Mothers are more commonly perpetrators of child deaths than fathers, and boyfriends are six times more likely to be perpetrators of physical and sexual violence than biological fathers.

As Patrick Parkinson, a principal author of the reforms, has said, “In the past 30 years, we have sown the wind in the revolution in attitudes to sex, procreation and marriage. We are now reaping the whirlwind. The societal problems which this has caused are problems that no law can resolve.” Family breakdown contributes to child abuse; shared care does not.

Angela Shanahan


http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/misconceptions-that-are-depriving-children-of-their-fathers/story-e6frg6zo-1225827005377

Oct 192009
 

THE Rudd government plans to roll back the Howard government’s controversial shared parenting law, enraging men’s groups.

Caroline Overington

October 19, 2009

The groups say the law, passed in the final term of the Howard government, have finally given them access to their children after separation, The Australian reports.

Six inquiries into the shared parenting laws are now under way, which men’s groups have interpreted as a sure sign that change is under way, too.

In a message to supporters, Sue Price of the Men’s Rights Agency, has described the planned rollback as the “most sustained and concerted attack” on shared parenting that she has seen in 15 years.

Ms Price said the laws did no more than encourage “reasonable contact between perfectly good fathers and their children” and she is urging supporters to “convince the Rudd government that there are a million votes at stake” if they roll back the shared parenting changes.

“War has been declared and now is the time to protest the changes,” Ms Price said, adding that planned changes were an attempt to “deny children shared parenting” and “an attack on a child’s right to be loved and cared for by a dad on a shared-care, equal basis”.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland, in concert with the Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, flagged a change to the law after a small child, Darcey Freeman, died after allegedly being thrown from the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne earlier this year.

Her father, Arthur Freeman, has been charged with murder. In a committal hearing, the court heard that the mother had been terrified of her former partner, and told neighbours and others that he was certain to kill one of her children.

Of the six inquiries into the law under way, the Family Court Violence Review, also known as the Chisholm report, for its chairman, former Family Court judge Professor Richard Chisholm, is likely to report to Mr McClelland first.

Submissions to the Chisholm inquiry closed on Friday. In one submission, the National Council for Children Post-Separation, which largely represents the interests of separated mothers, has examples of women forced into contact with violent partners, after those partners won the right to see their children in the Family Court.

The council says some men are approaching the court, asking for years-old parenting agreements to be modified so they can pay less child support. Under the Howard government reforms, men can pay less, in exchange for seeing their children more.

The submission says: “Parents are saying they don’t want money. They would be happy to forgo maintenance payments if it saves their child from having to spend half the week with a parent who does not really want to parent them, but whose main objective is to avoid child support.”

The submission also calls on the Family Court to consider the parenting roles played by each parent before separation, before deciding on shared or equal care after separation.

“Some parents abandon their spouse while pregnant and years later seek shared care when the child does not even know the parent,” the submission says.

“One nine-year-old boy who considered he already had a father, since his mother married his stepfather when he was a baby, was told he had to spend every second weekend with his biological father.

“If there is no existing emotional bond between a child and a parent, why should the court force one on a child who may have an emotional bond with a step-parent?”

More than 3500 parents have signed a petition calling for the changes to the shared parenting law.
A submission from men’s groups was not immediately available yesterday. The Shared Parenting Council says the six reviews of the law were placing “significant pressure” on the groups, which are “holding the line against a dismantling of the 2006 Family Law changes”.

Besides the Chisholm review, the Attorney-General has commissioned the University of South Australia, James Cook University and Monash University to investigate the impact of family violence during and after parental relationship breakdown. This review will be overseen by professor Thea Brown.

The Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW is also conducting a review, as are the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the University of Sydney.

Caroline Overington

http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,,26228703-5008620,00.html