Australia’s 2006 amendment to its Family Law Act increased parenting time for fathers, new governmental statistics show. Read about it here (The Australian, 8/31/11). The data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies show that, although few couples (only 7%) have custody arrangements comprised of equal parenting time, those in which one parent has between 35% and 65% of the parenting time have increased from 9% to 17% of divorced couples with children.
Those increases are apparently directly attributable to the 2006 amendments that encouraged equal custody arrangements.
The proportion of shared care arrangements has been increasing since 2002, but it only gained momentum in 2006 with the Howard government’s introduction of a presumption in favour of it to the Family Law Act.
In short, the presumption of equal parenting post-divorce did what it was supposed to do – increase equality in parenting time. Of course the law is not yet five years old, so most of the existing custody orders were made before the effective date of the 2006 amendments. As the article makes clear, the trend has been toward greater equality which as a practical matter means greater parenting time for fathers and less sole custody for mothers. And that of course is why the anti-dad crowd moved immediately to thwart the effects of the 2006 amendment. They’re in the process of doing just that with yet a new amendment that would expand the definition of domestic violence beyond anything the dictionary recognizes as actual violence. As in many of our states, the mere allegation by a mother of a fearful state of mind would be enough to deprive a child of its father and a father of his child. If that’s not enough, false allegations of domestic violence would receive neither punishment nor judicial sanctions. So DV allegations would be a free shot for any parent wanting to make them, and, since the great majority of DV claims in custody cases are made by mothers, it’s all too clear who will be victimized by the spike in false claims – fathers. Not surprisingly, the law’s green-lighting of both trivial and false allegations has led some Australian family lawyers to predict a doubling of DV claims in custody cases. That will swamp courts with allegations for which there is little or no evidence beyond a mother’s claim about her own subjective state of mind. Needless to say, all this – the legislative imprimatur on false claims and the separation of fit, loving fathers from their children – is being done under the banner of “the best interests of the child.” The fact that it would result in the opposite troubles the dogs of the war on fathers not a whit.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland says the government strongly supports shared care arrangements when it’s in the best interests of the children. He is trying to amend the 2006 changes to better protect children suffering violence and abuse, so the legislation makes it clear a child’s safety comes first.
The only problem with that is that it’s transparently false. Reading it you’d think that the 2006 amendment contained no language about domestic violence or that it in some way gave a pass to violent parents. But of course it did nothing of the kind. In fact the law is very clear that courts are to listen to and investigate claims of DV and child abuse and to tailor their orders accordingly. The notion that any legislator would vote for a custody law that failed to protect mothers and children from domestic violence is absurd. It’s also not factual. That in turn makes clear just what the motivations are behind the latest proposed amendment. Since judges are already empowered to address issues of DV in their custody decisions, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the new amendment is aimed less at protecting children than it is at excluding fathers from their lives. The new amendment has yet to pass Parliament, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time before it does. Then we’ll see an abrupt halt to the trend toward greater paternal custody of children. A few years from now we’ll see the statistics showing that paternal parenting time has plateaued or fallen. We’ll also likely see Australian family courts stuffed to the gills with parents crying “abuse.” Why should we be surprised? It’s what the anti-dad crowd have wanted all along.