Australian attorneys may be getting nervous about the recent proposed rollback of fathers’ rights. In 2006, modest reforms were made to the country’s Family Law Act. Those encouraged shared parenting while maintaining strict exceptions for parents who committed domestic violence or were otherwise deemed unfit to parent. But, modest as those reforms were, they were too much for the usual anti-dad crowd which duly swung into action. They claimed that the new law encouraged judges to grant custody to abusive fathers, despite its clear prohibition. In vain did advocates for fathers and children point to the plain wording of the law.
Those opposed to fathers’ having access to their children had their story and they stuck to it. Then the Attorney General looked into the reforms and the report he received was a mixed bag. Many parents like the law, particularly its emphasis on mediation which they felt worked well. But lawyers claimed confusion. They said that fathers went to them believing the law granted them automatic equal parenting rights. This, the attorneys told everyone who would listen, was an abomination. Now, as an attorney myself, I could have told those lawyers that clients often misunderstand the law. If they understood it completely, they wouldn’t have needed me. But since they don’t, it was my job to educate them as best I could. Of course those Australian lawyers know that very well, which is why I always took their complaints with a large grain of salt. Plus, the reforms were barely two years old when the government started trying to analyze them. To be blunt, that’s just silly. It takes a few years for people, clients, lawyers and judges to figure out exactly what’s meant and the effects of any new law. So to pass a law one year and start changing it two years later was always an exercise in futility. But they did it anyway. The actual proposal will likely be a nightmare, mostly for fathers and their children, but for courts as well and that’s what this article is about (Adelaide Now, 7/11/11). The lawyer who’s getting cold feet is Jane Miller of Tindall, Gask and Brantley. She’s concerned about the fact that parenting is going to go back to where it was before the 2006 reforms. I hate to tell her, but that’s the whole point. Fathers actually have rights under those reforms and well, we can’t have that now can we.
“For the last five years we have enjoyed a period where it has been easier for both mum and dad to have a balanced custody arrangement for their children, but there is a possibility that these changes could make parenting more one-sided after separation,” Ms Miller said.
Like I said, that was the point. But that’s far from Miller’s only worry. The proposed amendments drastically alter the definition of domestic violence to include virtually any behavior by a spouse the other one finds offensive. Raised voices, exhortations to spend less money and the like are converted from everyday occurrences in family life to reasons to separate children from their parents. And when I say “parents” of course, I mean “fathers.” If anyone seriously believes that fathers will raise these claims as much as mothers or be believed by judges if they do, I certainly haven’t seen it. The astonishingly broad definition of domestic violence threatens to swamp courts in endless claims of same by both parents. And in all honesty, they’ll be raising valid claims most of the time. After all, if the law says that making your spouse feel uncomfortable constitutes domestic violence and all domestic violence is a reason to separate parents from children, then it follows that those parents will be in court making those claims. How would it be otherwise?
She predicted the number of parents hauled before the court would also skyrocket if the law was passed.
“A quarter of our cases fit under the current definition (of domestic violence),” she said. ” Under the new proposals, probably half would meet that definition.”
If she’s right, that would mean the caseload of family courts would double. I suppose that makes the lawyers happy. If someone told me the legislature was about to send an endless gravy train directly to my house, I’d be happy to. But, to continue the metaphor, it’s no way to run a railroad. Making every imaginable slight actionable in court is no way to cope with divorce and child custody issues. It very plainly exacerbates already-bad feelings and asks courts to sort them out. Absent these provisions, parents would have to sort them out themselves, and 99 times out of 100, they would. The engine driving these destructive proposals is being driven by the same people who have long sought to vilify fathers and men generally. They’ve told us for decades that the family is the seat of “patriarchal” oppression of women by men, that women and children are better off without men and fathers. The fact that voluminous social science shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that those people are wrong proves time and again to be no impediment to their legislative success. Australia’s Parliament has yet to hold a final vote on the proposed amendments; that may come in August. At this point, the smart money is on passage. If the bill does pass, fathers’ rights advocates and all who value child well-being and fairness in the law must target MPs who voted ‘Aye’ and vote them out of office. Until that happens, expect to see further outrages as the anti-dad crowd convinces legislators to push fathers and children ever further apart.