Australia Rethinks Idea of Slicing Up Child Custody

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, In The News


"And the king said, 'Bring me a sword.' So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, 'Divide the living child in two, half to the one, and half to the other.'" (1 Kings 2:24-25)

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Australian government is rethinking its policy of slicing up custody to give divorced mothers and fathers equal time with their children.

It isn't quite working out as harmoniously as planned.

The High Court of Australia -- the Australian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court -- opened a big can of gummi worms when it ruled recently that the government cannot force divorced couples to share equal custody unless it is "reasonably practicable."

And what, exactly, does "reasonably practicable" mean? Ah, there's the trouble.
The resulting confusion casts doubt on thousands of existing custody agreements, the Morning Herald reports.

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 philosophy that all children have a right to know both parents while growing up and 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.

It sounds simple enough, but there have been wails and lamentations ever since the law was enacted.

The cries that reached the ears of the High Court came from a mother forced to move 1,524 miles from Sydney to an RV park in Mount Isa to be near her children after she and her husband separated and he moved for the sake of a mining job. The Herald reports the woman wound up living on welfare.

Justices unanimously ruled it was wrong to force a person into poverty and despair because of a custody decision.

A spokesman for Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland tells the Herald the government is preparing legislation to clean up the custody of law and give divorced parents clarity as to their status.

Related:
Report Criticizes Australia's Shared Parenting Law

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