Australian Dads in Dark About Recent Family Law changes, Says Fathers4Equality

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Ash Patil, President of Equal Parenting group Fathers4Equality, comments on the recent family law changes in Australia.

these children are the silent victims of a family law institution purposely designed to deny a child a meaningful relationship with one of their parents, simply because the parents had divorced.

Now that fathers' day has come and gone for another September in Australia, spare a thought for the tens of thousands of Australian children who did not see their father this past Sunday.

Ash Patil, President of equal parenting group Fathers4Equality, says that, "these children are the silent victims of a family law institution purposely designed to deny a child a meaningful relationship with one of their parents, simply because the parents had divorced."

He says that, "these family law orphans are the legacy of a fundamentally flawed system that has treated children as the ultimate prize, to be won by one parent and lost by the other." (According to the Family Court of Australia, 97.5% of all family law proceedings result in the children losing one of their parents).

James Adams, media spokesperson for Fathers4Equality adds that, "for more than three decades, the best interests of the child was a maxim in words only, masquerading an industry obsessed with promoting adversarial conflict, entrenching gender stereotypes, and insisting on a winner-takes-all philosophy designed to raise the stakes and generate massive legal fees in the process."

But some people in federal parliament would have you think that things have been changing for the better, especially since the introduction July last year of various family law amendments, claimed by the federal Attorney-General to be the "most significant changes to family law in the last thirty years."

Patil states that despite it still being too early to pass judgment on the application of the legislation by the courts, the intent of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 has been quite clear:

(i) That there is a rebuttable presumption of equal joint parental responsibility.

(ii) That if this presumption is not rebutted (through credible concerns for the child's safety, for instance), then the Court must consider an equal parenting time arrangement, or whatever shared parenting time arrangement is requested.

(iii) If such an arrangement is not awarded, the Court must clearly explain why.

Patil adds that the legislation is designed to promote significant and substantial shared parenting time (with both parents) for children of divorce, while at the same time bolstering safeguards against legitimate and credible risks to the child's safety, and allowing the Court ample discretion against impractical arrangements that simply would not work. Patil says that "with some fathers having already applied for and been granted 5 or 6 days residence out of every 14, we have some hope that things are improving."

Patil emphasises however that Fathers4Equality "continue to have serious concerns about the entrenched anti-male bias through-out every level of the family law industry, the escalation of false domestic violence allegations as a tactic of depriving access to children, and a lack of consistency on the application of the legislation throughout the registries."

Patil notes that although the legislation is far from what is required, "it is still significantly better than what we had before", and yet despite this assessment, James Adams says he is still "dismayed at the level of ignorance displayed by many fathers (and their solicitors) at the changes."

Adams says that, "We get emails every single day from desperate and sometimes suicidal fathers in the midst of separation, who are close to breakdown because they fear that they will never see their kids again". Adams makes the point that "the threat of denying access to children, often made by mothers during separation, may have been a truism in the past, but is less likely to be endorsed by the courts today. We simply need more fathers to be aware of this, he says emphatically!"

Adams says that "considering the grim suicide statistics awaiting fathers after divorce, where more men suicide every year than this country's total road death toll, the importance of educating those most vulnerable about these changes cannot be understated."

Although Patil is extremely grateful at the commitment the Prime Minister has shown in changing these flawed family laws, Fathers4Equality is requesting that the government do more to promote the message of change.

Ash says that, "this is as much about changing the expectations of a whole community as it is about informing father's of the recent changes."

According to Fathers4Equality, the jury is still out on whether the courts, who have been historically resistant to any form of shared parenting initiatives, will interpret these laws as they were intended over time, but the whole family law reform package put out by the Australian government has underscored a decisiveness for change, that at face value, seems quite genuine, at least for now.

"Let's hope that the Family Law courts live up to the intent of the legislation," Patil says in a positive tone. "Then maybe next year, many more children would have spent fathers' day with their dad, than was the case this year."

If you want to comment on your experience with the new family law reforms, or read about the experiences of others, visit the Fathers4Equality - Fathers Matter - blog at:

http://blog.fathers4equality-australia.org

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