Rough Seas Ahead for Australia’s Rollback of Rights for Fathers and Children?

Red sky at morning?  It may be too early to tell, but recent developments may predict rough seas ahead for the proposed rollback of the shared parenting law in Australia.  Read one article here (The Australian, 5/3/11).

As I’ve written before, the ink was barely dry on the 2006 amendments passed, after a lengthy period of public consultation and input, under the Howard Government, when the anti-dad forces declared them too flawed to stand.  The excuse put forward was predictable – dads are harmful to children, therefore greater father access to children means greater harm to them.

That mothers do more harm to children than do fathers according to every credible statistical source is a fact willingly ignored by those opposed to fathers’ rights.  The same is true for the fact that the active involvement of both parents in children’s lives has been shown time and time again to be beneficial to children.

Still, politics being more about power and influence than about sound, fact-based policy, the anti-father forces have managed to get amendments drafted to the 2006 law.  Although they nominally retain the shared parenting provisions of the bill, they ominously expand the meaning of the term “domestic abuse” while also removing court sanctions for false claims thereof.

In short, the amendments would take away whatever modest discouragement exists for false swearing.  The obvious results would include increases in false claims walking hand in hand with drops in fathers’ custody, already meager.  Indeed, fathers’ rights organizations in Australia understand the amendments to be a back-door repeal of the modest rights they gained in 2006.

But now this article tells us other complaints have been lodged against the proposal and from an unexpected quarter – the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant.

“Cases involving actual violence or abuse or the risk of harm to children are precisely those cases that need to be brought on quickly, heard in a timely manner and finalised so that appropriate protective arrangements can be put in place,” Chief Justice Bryant said. “It would be most unfortunate indeed if a consequence of the amendments, which are designed to improve responsiveness to family violence, was to place vulnerable children at risk of harm through delay . . ..” 

In other words, by dramatically expanding the definition of domestic abuse, the courts will be inundated with claims in cases already decided.  That would mean delays in adjudicating new cases that might involve real danger.  Paradoxically, that would place kids at risk.

And that’s not all.  The absurdly overbroad “definition” of what constitutes harmful behavior that could result in a restraining order or loss of custody or access is one example.

Family law professor Patrick Parkinson, the architect of the Howard government’s original family law changes, argues the new broad definition of violence is still flawed and could be abused.

In his submission he argues the opening words of the definition require that the behaviour complained of “coerces or controls” a family member. He says this is flawed because it does not say that the person accused of such behaviour needs to have the intention of coercing or controlling.

“It would certainly be problematic if someone could be held to have engaged in ‘violent’ behaviour without intending to do so, because his or her former partner felt coerced or controlled,” Professor Parkinson argues.

Do I need to state the transparent absurdity of a sovereign nation’s actually contemplating passing a law under which a person can be ruled to have “engaged in violent behavior without intending to do so?”  The idea that a father could be ejected from his house and forbidden contact with his children and they with him because he allegedly did something that his wife claims made her feel controlled, borders on the insane.

Here is a fact of life for all those who live with others – sometimes they do things that limit your otherwise unlimited freedom.  When the child cries in the night, the parent gets up to give comfort.  Might the parent feel a bit coerced or controlled?  Possibly.  When the husband contemplates spending the family’s last dime on another electronic gadget and the wife says ‘Honey, we need that money to pay the rent,” does he feel controlled?  Maybe so. 

But you know what?  That’s OK.  It’s one thing caring and responsible spouses do for each other sometimes and yes, sometimes it restricts the other person’s freedom of action.  And it should.  To call that “violence” is simply beyond the bounds of reason.   To make it grounds to deprive a child of a father would be criminal in a sane world.

Into the bargain, the whole concept is flawed.  That’s because it originated in a flawed political ideology that held that men seek to control women (women don’t do that to men, of course) and they do it through violence.

Well, in rare instances, that’s true.  And those instances are properly the subjects of judicial action.  But to say that because violence is coercive (even though most of it isn’t), then coercion must be violent is (a) factually wrong and (b) a logical fallacy.  That it should be enshrined in law speaks volumes about the societies we’ve created here in the oh-so-enlightened 21st century.

Here (The Australian, 4/29/11) and here (Sydney Indymedia, 4/27/11) are a couple of other articles on the opposition to the rollback of fathers’ rights to children and children’s rights to fathers under the Gillard Government.

Interestingly, in the former article, it’s revealed that, far from increasing family violence, child homicides in New South Wales have actually been halved since the effective date of the 2006 amendments.  I suspect that’s another one of those inconvenient truths the anti-dad crowd will prefer we overlook.

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