Report Criticizes Australia's Shared Parenting Law

Filed under: In The News

A retired family court judge in Australia says fathers are not entitled to split custody of their children.

Richard Chisholm says 50-50 custody often hurts kids. His 300-page report released Thursday criticizes Australia's shared parenting law and is sending shock waves across the land Down Under.

The Australian, the country's national newspaper, reports Chisolm calls the law a "tangle" that makes it more difficult for women to raise allegations of domestic violence in Australia's family court system.

His report was ordered by Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland after a 4-year-old Melbourne girl, Darcey Freeman, was allegedly thrown to her death from a bridge by her father, Arthur Phillip Freeman, last year.

Arthur Freeman's lawyer tells tells The Australian he plans to argue that his client is not guilty by reason of mental impairment during the trial set to begin in April.
Australia's shared parenting law was enacted in 2006 at the tail end of former Prime Minister John Howard's administration.

The idea was to make custody decisions based on the over-arching philosophy that all children have a right to know both parents while growing up and, further, that parenting is a responsibility that should be shared equally (unless the children's safety is at risk).

The law requires parents in custody battles to reach an agreement through a mediator. If they can't reach an agreement, family courts are supposed to divide custody evenly between both parents whenever possible.

What sounds good in theory has been a nightmare in practice, critics argue.

A report by the Australian Institute for Family Studies was released the same day as Chisholm's report and similarly concludes the 2006 shared parenting law favors fathers over mothers and parents over children.

Critics of the law have a blog where they argue the Freeman case illustrates the failings of shared parenting. They contend the girl's mother was too frightened to raise allegations of violence in family court, lest she be considered an uncooperative parent trying to undermine her children's father.

She ultimately agreed to a custody arrangement that gave her former husband access to all three of their children.

Critics argue family courts were weighted too heavily on the side of shared parenting, while ignoring concerns about the safety of Darcey Freeman and her two brothers.

Members of the group Fathers 4 Justice claim the law works fine
in most cases, and, at long last, considers the rights of fathers in custody battles.

McClelland tells The Australian he will examine both reports -- as well as a third from Australia's Family Law Council -- before he makes any recommendations to the government of current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. However, he adds, it is clear the law has created problems.

That doesn't necessarily mean the law will be changed.

Chisholm tells The Australian that many fathers believe the shared parenting laws automatically entitle them to 50-50 custody. That was never what the law intended, he adds.

Attorney General McClelland tells the paper misunderstandings need to be addressed.

"The question is whether you need legislation to get that information out," he tells The Australian, adding that the government will look at the "lighter touch" of public education before diving into the "deeper waters of legislative change."

"How we address that is what we've now got to decide," he tells the newspaper.

Related: Study Says Two Moms Make the Best Parents

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.