April 11, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s a spectacularly bad idea, but the Australian Law Reform Commission is recommending that the requirement that judges at least “consider” shared parenting in child custody cases be “scrapped.” (The Australian, 4/11/19).  What, if anything, the commission’s report recommends to replace that requirement, the linked-to article doesn’t say.

Legal scholar Patrick Parkinson wouldn’t mourn the loss, but
Professor Parkinson, one of the architects of the Howard government laws, said he would be “happy to see it go” — however, he wanted the shared parenting laws to retain recognition that the best interests of children were met by both parents having a meaningful involvement in their lives.

Parkinson has long harbored at least somewhat pro-shared parenting views, so I suspect that his indifference to the current law stems at least in part from the fact that it doesn’t work.  If the overwhelming anti-father/pro-mother bias for which Australian family courts are so infamous has been tempered by the law, it’s not been obvious.

Meanwhile, anti-shared parenting forces have opposed the law literally from the start.  They waited all of three months after its effective date to begin demanding its repeal.  They’ve been beating that drum ever since. 

So, unless the Australian Parliament demonstrates some hitherto unnoticed courage and ignores the commission’s recommendation, shared parenting in the Land Down Under is headed for the round file.

Needless to say, this is the worst news for Australia’s fathers and children.  Clearly, the family law on child custody needs strengthening, not weakening.  Just as clearly, the commission, despite issuing a ponderous tome 583 pages long, having gathered reams of data of all sorts, omitted some rather interesting items.

For example, nowhere in the report is there a breakdown of custody decisions.  How many are sole-mother orders, how many sole-father ones?  How many are for shared parenting and what percentage of parenting time for each parent did that mean?  You’d think those would be important data to be considered in formulating recommendations.  But they weren’t to the commission.

What about the by-now-voluminous science on shared parenting’s benefits to kids?  Not a word.  Oh, the commission devotes a few words to shared parenting – just enough to utterly misrepresent the reality of the science.  I’ll say more about that tomorrow.

And then there’s our old friend - Enforcement of Access orders.  Non-custodial parents, almost 90% of whom are fathers, find that, according to Australian historian John Hirst, alone among all court orders issued by all Australian judges, only visitation orders are to never be enforced by judges’ power of contempt.  In short, those orders are all but worthless.  If Mom wants to obey them, fine, but if she doesn’t, Dad and little Andy or Jenny are simply out of luck.

So what did the commission have to say about orders for child access by non-resident parents?  Not a word.  In the section entitled “Articulation of the Problems,” nothing is said or suggested about what Australian fathers have complained about for decades.  For that matter, the entire issue of children being unable to have meaningful time with their non-custodial parent is utterly ignored.

That’s all true despite the fact that the commission established a Tell Us Your Story portal online and received countless complaints about the family law system generally.  Did truly none of those complaints come from fathers who feel abused, belittled and overlooked by courts?

There’s much more to this report.  I’ll have more to say on it tomorrow.

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