Saturday, April 4, 2009

IN OZ ~ Fathers praise access law

This is a followup article. The previous one is here.MJM

Caroline Overington | April 01, 2009

Article from: The Australian

THE Family Court has undergone a radical change in direction since the Howard government's changes to the Family Law Act came into effect, and the emphasis is now firmly on the rights of fathers to have relationships with their children after separation and divorce.

Wayne Butler of the Shared Parenting Council, which was established in 2002 to push for legislative change that would largely benefit fathers, said the law was quite clear: "that children are entitled to a relationship with their dad, and it's good to see the Family Court coming around to that".

Mr Butler was responding to a report in The Australian yesterday in which Family Court judge Robert Benjamin removed two children, aged nine and seven, from their mother in Tasmania, with whom they had lived since the couple separated in 2005, and sent them to live with their father in Melbourne.

The mother had been the primary carer of the children since birth. The father left Tasmania for Melbourne in 2006. He had access to the children on holidays, but the "changeovers" had become fractious and his daughter was becoming estranged from him.

The judge said the mother had not encouraged her children to have a good relationship with their father.

Under changes to the Family Law Act (1975) introduced by the Howard government, the Family Court is required to apply the presumption that it is in the best interest of the child for the child's parents to have shared and equal parenting responsibility, unless there is violence.

Solo Mums Australian convenor Elspeth McInnes said Justice Benjamin had not taken into account psychological damage to the children, who had lived solely with their mother since 2005.

"From the child development perspective, it seems extraordinary," Dr McInnes said.

"It seems the judge is saying that mothers must make their children happy to see their fathers, or else they will be punished. I don't think such punishment has any regard to the children's wellbeing."

Mr Butler said the changes to the act meant fathers were getting better outcomes than they had previously.

"You're better off now with a judge than you were before, and you're better off than you would be, if you just accept what your former partner gives you," he said.

Patricia Merkin, who advocates on behalf of women in Family Court disputes, said the changes were "nothing less than a social engineering experiment to respond to the so-called bias against fathers".

Barry Williams of the Lone Fathers Association said he dealt every week with fathers "attempting suicide ... because they can't see their children".

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The work of Fathers 4 Justice and the Pain of Fathers ~ Activism in the UK

Equal and Shared Parenting ~ The Movie