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In Australia, 'Children are Entitled to a Relationship with their Dad'
"The Family Court has undergone a radical change in direction since the Howard government's changes to the Family Law Act came into effect, and the emphasis is now firmly on the rights of fathers to have relationships with their children after separation and divorce." This article asserts that the Australian family court system has undergone a profound change in favor of greater fathers' rights (The Australian, 4/1/09). And it seems that proponents and opponents of fathers' rights agree that a major change has indeed taken place. That suggests to me that the article is not just blowing smoke. Wayne Butler of the Shared Parenting Council interprets the changes to the Family Law Act as protecting a child's relationship with his/her father. Solo Mums Australia convenor Elspeth McInness sees it as punishment for mothers who don't "make their children happy to see their fathers." The latter is clearly nonsense. The law certainly is not about punishing mothers but trying to establish and maintain bonds between fathers and children. The case that's given rise to all the opining on family law in Australia is described in this article (Herald Sun, 3/31/09). A judge, Robert Benjamin, recently transferred custody of two children from their mother to their father. The cause of the change in custody seems to be that she encouraged the children's anger at the father, their unwillingness to go with him on visitations and the increasing estrangement of the girl. In short, it's not a clear case of parental alienation by the mother, but rather her failure to encourage a healthy relationship between the father and the children. Apparently, the children's anger toward the father stems from his throwing over the mother (and inevitably them) for another woman. That's certainly an understandable reaction by the children and, by itself, not grounds for a change in custody. More important is the court's finding that the mother knew of the increasing estrangement of the daughter from her father and did nothing about it. This is where I find it hard to guess at what went on behind the scenes that is obscured by the media's reporting of the case. Is "estrangement" code for parental alienation? Did the mother promote that? It's hard to tell or to make an accurate guess. So I assume that no active alienation occurred on the mother's part, and certainly none has been clearly reported. She simply didn't attempt to promote a good relationship between the children and their father. Therefore, it seems that the case truly stands for the proposition that Australian family courts will begin to promote fathers' relationships with their children as a right guaranteed by law. In other words, Australian dads will no longer have to prove outrageous conduct by the mother to establish and maintain a relationship with their children. And that, with the caveat that no law will ever be right for all situations, strikes me as a giant step forward. We in the United States should follow developments closely. Thanks to Stephen for the heads-up.