By Corrine Barraclough
This week Attorney-General George Brandis announced plans to undertake a review of the family law system. It is about time; the system has been chugging along since 1975 while the world has moved on. Families are different, parenting is different and navigating divorce is, often, part of life.
Why this is so important
Pete Nicholls, CEO of Parents Beyond Breakup (PBB) says, “There are more than one million children living in separated families in Australia. All of those children deserve to have a great relationship with their parents. For that to happen we need a family law system that helps separated mums and dads to work together and give their children the best possible start in life… Many of the parents we work with are caught up in complex cases and find themselves contemplating suicide. Too often, we find our job is keeping parents alive and in their kids’ lives when the family law system fails to deal with their case in a timely and effective manner.”
What is the goal?
“We want Australia to lead the world in creating a reformed family law system that supports separating mums and dads to be the best parents they can and share responsibility for raising their children”, Nicholls says. “Australian kids deserve nothing less than that.”
What does the debate look like?
We need to be very clear that there are three sides to this debate:
1) Fierce feminist ideologues: will try to push hard on the anti-men domestic violence narrative, in doing so ensuring children remain under the care of their mother.
2) Equalists: will speak about ‘shared care’. That is, a division of care between the two parents.
3) Stakeholders: get used to hearing this word in this debate. Family law is big business and huge dollars. There are many with a vested interest in steering the outcome of this review.
Interestingly, Brandis himself referred to “stakeholders” in his initial statement. Make no mistake; this is not an independent review with the intention of securing the best for the children.
Steering the review will be Professor Helen Rhoades who Brandis states has “extensive experience and a deep knowledge of family law.”
Here are 5 other things you need to know about Rhoades:
1) She is an Australian academic embedded within the system.
2) She has a clear history of repeatedly pushing back against shared care. Her less than positive response to shared parenting was taken into consideration in the Australian 2006 reforms and the Family Justice Review (FJR) in the UK in 2011. The FJR’s interim report had encouraged a change in legislation to emphasise “the importance to the child of a meaningful relationship with both parents after their separation where this is safe.” In steps Rhoades with weighty concerns, a U-turn follows and into the bin flies legislation emphasising the importance of both parents.
3) She snubs shared parenting, writing “… This view is based on a belief that shared parenting is so intrinsically beneficial to children that it should be supported even when parents are not able to cooperate or communicate with each other.” Hmm. So, she’s against shared parenting because exes can’t communicate? How is that in the best interest of children? Crucially, she places the importance of parental communication – often scuppered by the very parent inappropriately withholding contact – as paramount. She says that is above the need of children to have meaningful contact with both parents. As a self-proclaimed feminist, perhaps we can conclude her position clearly shows her ideological priority aligning with the mother instead of the child. Instead of snubbing share care, damning it as damaging to children, how about examining how irrationally hostile parents might be made to act in their child’s best interests? Of course, that isn’t in keeping with feminist ideology, is it?
4) She has taken exception to reform sparked by “extensive lobbying by fathers groups”. The very fact they exist underlines the real issue here, but again, a feminist ideologue sees fathers, and in fact, the family as the enemy.
5) She frequently quotes discredited Jennifer MacIntosh who has previously directed several research projects for the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department and the Family Court of Australia. She is entrenched in the system. She led research that said shared care was a source of “psychological strain” for children “in her sample”. She’s so renowned, the family law sector has a name for when a father loses access to his children – it is to be MacIntosh’d.
This is far too important for someone with a known anti-father, anti-shared care agenda to come in and likely make this system worse.
Why hasn’t Brandis appointed fresh eyes and input to this review? He may as well have appointed Rosie Batty and Our Watch.
Who wants to guess what this “review” will find?
Why has he appointed someone who wants to give fathers a harsher deal to the detriment of their children?
Brandis has given the public the impression of being family centred for the right of the party, but ensured that it won’t actually reform things for the left leaning progressives who are anti-family.
Nice try Brandis. Unfortunately, we’ve seen straight through your tactic. What else does an ex-lawyer do when confronted by public outrage over abuse of family law while simultaneously needing to keep the legal gravy train flowing?
Surely this issue needs to be sorted out by someone other than politicians, lawyers and academics with a biased approach?
Can we stop pretending that intensifying the war between men and women is helping children?