Australia – Shared parenting ‘hurting children’ – The Anti FAMILY Brigade seems to be making ground?

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Shared parenting ‘hurting children’

By Ticky Fullerton for Lateline

Posted Fri Aug 28, 2009 6:51am AEST
Updated 11 hours 15 minutes ago

New research claims children in high-conflict families are suffering under shared care arrangements (Reuters: John Kolesidis, file photo)

The Federal Government is under growing pressure to change its shared parenting legislation, with a former judge criticising the laws for not working in the interests of the child.

Three years ago the Howard government re-wrote Australia’s family laws. The reforms championed shared care for children in separated families, based on the idea that most were better off spending as much time with each parent as possible.

But new research commissioned by the federal Attorney-General’s office has found that children in high-conflict families do not like shared care.

The children also had higher rates of hyperactivity than children who had a stable home base with one of their parents.

Researcher, Doctor Jennifer McIntosh from Family Transitions, looked at children’s development in 130 high-conflict families, some of whom went to court.

Dr McIntosh says children in shared care are more troubled, distressed and anxious than children who have more flexible arrangements.

“The children in rigid arrangements – that tended to be court ordered – weren’t doing very well four years ago. However, what we’ve been able to demonstrate is that the care arrangement hasn’t helped,” Dr McIntosh said.

“In fact these children have become more distressed over time.”

The most controversial finding of the research questions a cornerstone of the shared parenting laws – more time for fathers with their kids.

“We found that there isn’t, in this group, a linear relationship between how much time children were spending with their fathers and the quality of that relationship according to the children,” Dr McIntosh said.

“In fact, the thing that predicted good relationship with father four years down the track wasn’t time, it was a good relationship four years ago.”

The study did not look at the thousands of straightforward separations, where mediation ensures flexible shared care that may work for children.


Professor Alastair Nicholson, who spent 16 years as chief justice of the family court, is one of the critics of the current laws.

“The problem with it is it treats children as objects, rather than as people. What it’s really saying is not much about the desires, the needs, the interests of the child,” Professor Nicholson said.

“What it’s talking about are the desires and the needs and the interests of the parents.”

Last year 15 per cent of litigated cases and almost 20 per cent of settled cases awarded 50/50 equal time. Many more agreed to shared care at some level.

“I think it raised the expectation of fathers considerably and I think it also created an expectation amongst mothers that they should agree to equal sharing,” Professor Nicholson said.

Tim Carmody QC spent two years as a Family Court judge under the new laws and found his discretion cut back by the presumption of shared care.

“What the 2006 reforms did was make a grey area, which was hard enough, into black and white. It was trying to make motherhood sentiments into legally enforceable rules and codify the behaviour of parents,” he said.

“The best interests of the children became something different under the legislation because it started from the assumed fact, in most cases, that the more time children spend with both parents the better. That should have been a conclusion, not a beginning.”

Mr Carmody resigned as a judge in 2008 and is now back at the bar.

“I can’t deny that I found it difficult as a judge to apply the law, which is a judge’s job, when to me it had so many deficits and the government or the Parliament wasn’t really looking at its deficiencies,” he said.

The current Chief Justice of the Family Court, The Honourable Diana Bryant, says everyone involved is criticised but it is a difficult job done under pressure.

“When something occasionally terrible happens to a child I can assure you that everybody feels it very much,” she said.

“Children have very different needs at different ages and stages and I think that’s pretty important. Fortunately, I think the people who are doing mediation and the family relationship centres have a reasonable understanding of that sort of research.

“I think that it’s quality of the relationship that’s important, not the quantity. And one of the unfortunate effects, I think, of the 2006 legislation has been that it’s focused people very much on time. You know, they want equal time and it’s taken the focus away, I think, from what’s best for the child.”

Dads the big winners

The 2006 shared parenting laws require judges to apply a presumption of shared parental responsibility, except where violence or abuse is an issue.

What is more, the court is obliged to consider parents also share equal time with their children if at all possible.

Intense lobbying from fathers’ groups helped deliver the parenting laws.

But pressure for change has been building from women’s groups and in the print media with tales of what appear to be harsh rulings against mothers. Some of the worst involve relocation of children.

In one case a mother was left little choice but to stay in a remote mining town in a caravan, or lose care of her daughter, despite her family support base being Sydney.

Media reports like that one have angered some academics and fathers’ groups.

Shared Parenting Council president Michael Green QC says often people are not made aware of the full story.

“My concern with the stories is that most often it gives us only a disappointed or a very concerned mother’s view, not the father’s view, and more seriously, not the objective judgment of the magistrate or the judge who heard all the evidence and then made a decision, the decision which is now being criticised,” he said.

“One of the most scurrilous things levelled against our judicial figures is that they are deliberately placing children in situations of violence or situations that are dangerous.”

But former chief justice Professor Alastair Nicholson disagrees. He not only believes the media reports reflect a disturbing trend, but that the laws now put children at risk.

“I think there’s a risk that violence may be overlooked in the quest for shared-parenting responsibility. I think that’s one of the problems about the legislation, yes,” he said.

“The case is really decided on the papers and I think there’s a tendency there, not to ignore violence, but to be a little sceptical about it, particularly if there’s no history or background that suggests the substance to it, such as Magistrates Court orders and so on.”

Fathers’ groups and womens’ groups both claim the high ground on research to back their cause, but if Dr McIntosh’s research is replicated in bigger numbers, it will be potent ammunition for those seeking change.

Expect resistance, though, from people like Michael Green, who worked so hard for the shared parenting laws.

“We’d lose, again, a whole generation of separated children, in terms of their really healthy relationships with not only their fathers but their mothers too,” he said.

“And I know that separated groups, fathers’ groups in particular, shared parenting groups, can conjure up over a million votes. And that’s something that I think the Government will take into account.”

Mr Green says the previous laws were harmful to the relationship between the children and their father because it was based on too little time.

“It follows as night follows day that time is required for a good relationship. You can’t do it in a weekend every fortnight,” he said.

The Federal Government has commissioned another two reviews into shared parenting, which are due by the end of the year.

Tags: community-and-society, family-and-children, divorce, law-crime-and-justice, family-law, australia

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Comments (61)

Comments for this story are closed. No new comments can be added. If you would like to have your say on this issue, you can do so via the Emails section of our Opinion pages.

·         ABC (Moderator):

28 Aug 2009 7:18:11am

Do you agree that shared parenting is more distressing for the children involved?

Agree (2) Alert moderator

o        LadyGrey:

28 Aug 2009 7:31:51am

Shared parenting works great, if only it was more common before the divorce.
Obviously parents who have amicably made arrangements are going to have a healthier emotional environment for children, who are split between homes.
Forced, shared parenting, which does not reflect the reality of the child’s experience is conversely unhealthy.

Agree (6) Alert moderator

§         The Jackel:

28 Aug 2009 9:26:52am

I agree ladygrey, this was a study conducte on the kids in the worst situation. It does not look at the kids that are going from one loving home to another where the parents put aside petty difference for the sake of the kids.

Here we go again for the sake of the lowest denomination the majority must be punished. the problem is I garantee the lowest denomination will continue to have simillar difficulties while the majority of kids in this situation will get punished.

Lets remmember that these kids being studied have likley experienced dificulties since befor the brea up so this study is lumping the blame of a life of mistreatment and poor parenting on one fact when the problem really stems from poor parenting.

Before you bag me out you should know I come from a highly abusive family. the abusive parent was removed when I was still quite young. I like most of my childhood friends came through this existance okay but I can tell you the non abusive parent stuff us all up prety bad as well because unfortunatly they two were stuffed up by their life and needing time to find themselve’s.

My point is remove kids from abusive parents but recognise that often the other parent is unable to be a perfect parent. and in the case of couples where neither is abusive to the kids or to each other which I hope is the majority the kids deserve both parents.

Agree (1) Alert moderator

§         acker:

28 Aug 2009 9:40:47am

Perhaps people need to think about shared caring in a different way

I took over as the primary carer for one of my children after he started to struggle at school post the separation.

Why not look at changing primary care roles when the kids get older example fathers taking over when the kids reach secondary school if everyone is agreeable.

The main thing though is parents have to be drop there emotional egos and vindictiveness, and be civil to each other after a split for the sake of the kids, or any arrangement will become a disaster and the kids will hurt the most

Agree (1) Alert moderator

o        Secondrower:

28 Aug 2009 8:23:05am

Shared parenting is the only way to go…..but if parents can come to another arrangment and will sign court orders to comply than that might work.
Returnibg to the bad ol days of kids gets 2 days a fortnight with dad who pays for everything is hopeless.
That ol Nicholson was the man who stuffed up a lot of families. Tell him keep out of it. He says in the interview he is cocerned about unhappy mothers …….but they are not his kids.
The report only talks about violent fathers. Stats show more kids are assaulted by mothers than dads. Why bias the report with innaccurate assumptions?
Kids need Dads as well as mums and 2 days a fortnight never worked. Keep shared parenting… unless parents make other signed enforcable arrangements… so they know they have to stick to them

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o        Equanimity:

28 Aug 2009 8:31:41am

I can appreciate from the experience of some friends how there simply cannot be a one size fits all policy.
Our children however, now late teenagers, have had to negotiate two households and four parents since they were toddlers on a fifty fifty basis. Till three or four years ago half a week about and with whole weekends attached, and lately week about. I’ll warrant there were some issues to iron out during the first few years, but the advent of email and more recently SMS insulated the kids almost entirely from parental conflict. Having a record of parental communication has also gone a long way to keeping everyone honest.
Perhaps in high conflict scenarios the court could order intensive counselling for parents.

Agree (2) Alert moderator

o        tim:

28 Aug 2009 8:46:03am

The cases that go to court, like the tiny handful in this study, are the worst. However, the new laws have surely influenced the many, many more agreements made without court intervention. The changes made three years ago have surely enormously influenced almost every separation indirectly (because mothers agree to them knowing they would lose in court if they pursue dominant custody, for example). So a reversion to the old way is a huge change.
Shared parenting seems to be working extremely well in the cases I know of.

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o        cutesta:

28 Aug 2009 8:52:55am

There is no reason for share custody not to work, as long as both the parents are able to put their grievences aside and to put their children’s best interest at heart, but some people are so nasty with a relationship breakdowns that they use their children as weapons, forgetting that there should be no sides. As Sarah said a program for seperated parents, maybe something that would be part of the custody process, children should beable to have a healthy relationship with both parents and that would have to be better for the children.

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o        Blzbob:

28 Aug 2009 8:54:48am

It is not the shared parenting that is at fault,
it is the hatred and lack of respect often shown by the custodial parent (whether full time or intermittent) to their ex-partner that does the psychological damage to the children.

If you hate your ex-partner, you shouldn’t have any rights or access to the children.

If you hate the child’s other parent, how can you love the child.

Agree (2) Alert moderator

§         Pasamio:

28 Aug 2009 9:17:53am

Of course its not shared parenting at fault! I remember when I was in high school after my parents had started divorce proceedings and I spent 50% of the time at one house and 50% of the time at another. It was great when I forgot something because it was at the other house half an hour drive away, usually very early in the morning too on the day I needed it. Teachers were usually tolerant enough which helps but it is still a pain enough.

As someone who had to plan their weeks in advance at high school to ensure that they had everything for the duration they were at the opposite house, I can say that it is a ripe royal pain to live in a split house even if the parents are pleasant to each other.

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o        doublecheck:

28 Aug 2009 8:56:03am

The article title is poor because when you read the article it turns out that it refers specifically to the children of parents who are in high conflict situations, with the possibility that the high conflict environment could be affecting outcome, not necessarily the shared parenting.

Also, there are as many studies that show that children suffer if they lose a connection with one of their parents, especially during their teens.

Agree (0) Alert moderator

o        Blzbob:

28 Aug 2009 9:00:08am

Sometimes it is the parent who loves the child most that has to walk away in the hope of diffusing the situation and in the hope that the hatred will wither.
Then they are often accused of not caring.

Agree (2) Alert moderator

o        Megan:

28 Aug 2009 9:02:04am

It’s not a one size fits all. There are some remarkable, wonderful parents out there who should both be applauded for their ability to put aside their differences and do shared care while working in the best interests of their children. They shouldn’t be punished, nor should their children because some people simply don’t have the maturity to put their own wants aside for the emotional health of their children.

When dealing with high conflict situations, and recognising that it’s not always both parents creating the conflict, it is not a simple matter of deciding shared care versus majority care. It is vastly complicated and the job is often left in the hands of third parties. You have to hope that they do a thorough job when assessing what they believe is in the best interests of children in high conflict divorces. Unfortunately they don’t always get it right.

One opinion I will give on the subject with relative certainty of my position is that it is not a matter of shared care which is distressing to the children, it’s the conflict between the parents. The conundrum which it can put the children in, feeling that they are in the middle of that they have to choose, is what is damaging to them.

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o        Sparkle:

28 Aug 2009 9:38:41am

I think it makes life very difficult for the children’s frienships, schooling, social activities, sporting events and so on. Also kids need consistency and routine. No two familie are the same. This means constant readjustment for the children. In situations where there is bad feeling they would be so stuck in the middle and not know who to be loyal to.

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o        Peter Burrows:

28 Aug 2009 9:39:11am

The reason adults have to become part of the shared parenting program is because they had children without understanding the responsibility they embraced as a result of their actions.
Stop complaining parents and start behaving like responsible adults. Think of the kids you selfish idiots.

Agree (1) Alert moderator

·         familypsych:

28 Aug 2009 7:28:57am

Most definitely a deleterious policy for children.

Dr. Mackintosh and Professor Nicholson are stating what is *regularly observed* in both clinical and research circles – that moving back and forth like a pendulum between residential environments is exhausting, confusing and highly disruptive.

Overdue change is necessary.

Agree (3) Alert moderator

o        bootneck:

28 Aug 2009 7:55:04am

I would have thought that the most sensible solution would be to ask those closets to the problem; the children themselves. Why not ask the children how they wish their lives to be managed by their parents? This could be reviewed annually.

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§         Gweneth:

28 Aug 2009 8:22:06am

That really depends on the age of the child and the way that is done is critical. Questions like that can be loaded with emotional blackmail. If a child loves and cares about both parents but needs the stability of one of them for happy living then making them articulate that choice can make them feel like they are being forced to reject the other. This stuff isn’t easy.

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§         bootneck:

28 Aug 2009 8:39:39am

None of it’s easy but the courts do need to start to listen to the children and I can see nothing wrong with the child/children being apart from their parents when the hard questions are asked.

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§         WP:

28 Aug 2009 8:55:54am

Or more likely, the child will go with the one that spoils them, has no rules, etc. They may choose the one thats the most fun, which may not be the one who makes them do their home work, clean their teeth and go to bed,

The child should not choose.

Shared care can mean week about, or even fortnight about.

My guess is the best indicator or how well the child goes, is how well the divorced parents work together for the childs welfare, not what the law is.

Agree (1) Alert moderator

§         JackTheCat:

28 Aug 2009 9:31:57am

Children who are dealing with the trauma of family breakdown are in no position to no what is best for them. It is a parents job to make decisions based on what they think is right for the children. It is unfortunate that when there is alot of conflict between parents the decision making process becomes more of a war over these precious “possessions”.

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o        doublecheck:

28 Aug 2009 8:49:08am

How can you criticize the current sharing policy when the study actually doesn’t do a comparison with children that are excluded from one parent?

Also, this study only included the children of parents in high conflict seperations, and therefore can not be used as a guide for more amicable seperation.

As it turns out, children also suffer terribly when they lose the connection with one of their parents, but this may take time to show-up as a problem, especially in the problematic teen period.

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·         john:

28 Aug 2009 7:31:29am

I am in the process of starting to do share care with my expartner with my 8yr son.
She has a new partner and lives 800kms from us and he does not want to go.
His other brothers are too old to be made to go and he is going to be seperated from them.
He thinks if they do not have to do it why should I have to go.
He is shy and just coming out of his shell and very happy but under the current laws i have no choice but to let him go.
I can already see where this is heading.
If these laws are in the best interest of the child then the lawmakers must not have kids themselves.
So personally i have to sit back and watch the destruction of the security that i have built up during the last 2 years with my son.

Agree (3) Alert moderator

·         retread:

28 Aug 2009 7:32:36am

As a parent of 2 kids who has suffered under the biased legilsation that left me with care of my kids for 2 days out of every 14, I can say that this represents the typical knee jerk reaction that will result in a return majority custodial care going to one parent regardless of the circumstances.
who decides “high conflict”?
Both of my kids expressed a desire to spend more time with me but were ignored by their mother (and the court system), with no real justification than a desire to maintain the stsus quo.
the utopian belief that “flexible” arrangements are possible, even if the parents aren’t in “conflict” is rediculous and doesn’t reflect the fact that, for many, the determination to have majority care is based more on the resulting CSA payments and pension benifits than a desire for the children of the relationship to have both parents play an active role in raising the kids.

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o        Gweneth:

28 Aug 2009 8:27:07am

And you can’t ignore that the reverse can also be true. I know of a situation where a father forced the shared arrangement so that he wouldn’t have to pay any money and then left to care of his two daughters to whatever girl friend he was currently living with while he spent the evenings out with the boys. He now has another child with another woman who he has also walk out on. Even under the old system he never paid what was required. I think a judge wold like some discretion in that case.

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·         RoyB:

28 Aug 2009 7:34:49am

This review of the report fails to state what causes the actual stress- a possibility is the children are exposed to the bile and hate one parent feels for the other, if the court has ORDERED
the shared parenting- good chance the kids(s) would be subject to repeated comments about how bad the other parent is, and how unresonable, unfair etc the decision is/was.
That would stress the children.alot.

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·         Drew:

28 Aug 2009 7:40:33am

I believe shared parenting can work and be beneficial for the child.
The problem is, as was stated in the article is if the child (or chidlren) is treated as an object and used by the parents in their tit for tat game that’s when it becomes a problem.

Say for example it’s the childs turn to be at their dad’s but their is some activity that requires them to remain at their mothers that weekend what happens to the dad’s access? Is it just bad luck and he loses it or will an alternate arrangement be made?

often the case is that the ‘losing’ parent loses out on time with their child. this can result in further games down the track with the child as a pawn.

The arrangements can work. They just have to allow for flexibility with the childs interests in mind rather than the parents.

Perhaps a neutral third party to oversee such arrangements could be in order. Such as friends of the divercee’s or level headed family members.

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·         Myopic:

28 Aug 2009 7:51:23am

Shared parenting is a nice idea but it’s not in the best interests of the child. It puts too much emotional strain on them, particularly if the parents are sniping at each other.

Striving for a fair and equitable arrangement in family law is difficult, to say the least, and dissatisfaction is inevitable. But it’s not about the parents being treated equally and nor should it be. Children need a stable environment.

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o        Michelle:

28 Aug 2009 8:36:46am

Children need a stable environment. I couldn’t agree more. They need one home to call their own and at least one stable parent of whom they can depend upon 24/7. This is called ‘stability’, and all children must have it – shared parenting does not provide ‘stability’.

In divorce everyone loses and both parties must be willing to sacrifice much for their children – even if that means allowing the ‘best parent’ to continue to provide all the ‘stability’.

In the best interests of the child/ren the other parent should be supported in their parental role also, but the child’s opinion and wishes should always take precedence ALWAYS.

It’s easy to determine the ‘best parent’. Just ask the children.

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·         Wonderful Parent:

28 Aug 2009 7:52:51am

“High conflict” is the issue, here. My former wife goes to extraordinary efforts to ensure our relationship appears as “high conflict” knowing full well that it serves her own purpose of preventing contact between our children and me. From the petty – stealing my ticket to the kids’ school musical or ensuring their mobile phone is always turned off – to the criminal – allegations of assault and sexual abuse with no evidence whatsoever – as soon as a court views the relationship as “high conflict”, it says there can’t be shared care and she is rewarded for using and abusing her own children.

When we were married, she described me to anyone who would listen as a “wonderful father”. And I am.

I think shared care should be automatic so that it can’t be manipulated by selfish, vengeful parents. Isolate the parties so there can be no conflict and parents can’t use their kids as weapons and shields. Eliminate the conflict, not the contact.

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·         Sarah:

28 Aug 2009 7:57:18am

As someone who was caught in the shared custody arrangement as a child I would have to say that I simply hated it. I felt that the courts didn’t listen to me or to my sisters and yes, we were treated as possessions. As an adult I elected to spend limited time with my mother’s family, who had instigated the court proceedings and had attempted to coach us to say bad things about my father on the stand.

By the time I was thirty I had decided I wanted nothing to do with my mother’s family – the main problem being that their proprietary attitude towards us had simply not changed.

I have often wondered what would have worked better. At the time I resented the court order that kept Dad trapped in Queensland for the weekend access (he was awarded custody of me, mother’s family had weekend access) when his family and his childhood friends were all interstate. His depression became steadily worse over the years because of his geographic and emotional isolation and I hated the steady smears and sneers that my mother’s family would offer up towards him when I was with them on weekends.

Then, and now, I think that I would have been much better off if Dad had been able to return interstate where he had his support network and if I’d returned once a year or so for Xmas holidays with my mother’s family.

If both sides had’ve gone willingly to counseling and learned some conflict management skills and developed some INSIGHT into how their behaviours accelerated the conflict, then perhaps it might have been bearable. And better, I would have learned some useful skills from them, instead of having to go to counseling as an adult, because I simply had no healthy model for how relationships worked.

All I knew was ‘I’m right, they’re wrong.’
No wonder kids are struggling today.

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o        pmetcher:

28 Aug 2009 8:27:51am

You make a great point about conflict management skills.

I don’t think that it is the shared custody arrangements that are the issue, I think it is the behaviour of the parents involved, whether single, de facto, married, separated or divorced. If the parents are not able to agree to a custody arramngement, surely having a court make the decision for them is going to escalate the situation.

And as you say, Sarah, it is what the parents (and other family members) do with the court decision that matters more than the decision.

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o        BT:

28 Aug 2009 8:33:54am

I wholeheartedly agree. I remember when my parents were in the process of divorcing, my brother and I were forced to see a court appointed psychologist for one hour. We weren’t told that what we said would be repeated to our parents, and our parents weren’t required to receive counselling before ruining our lives – and that is not an exaggeration. Children of divorced parents are highly disadvantaged – my schooling was severely disrupted and I failed my HSC because of the stress. I am now 31 and almost about to finally finish my degree. Was out of home and paying rent at 17. Neither parent gave me a cent towards my future I had to do it all myself. Parents should be FORCED to get counselling and courts should compensate children for the disadvantage of coming from a broken home.

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·         Scotty:

28 Aug 2009 8:19:43am

Distressing separations is the real problem, there is no incentive to find the right partner with divorce so easy to get.. The court and our law makers need to understand that its the parents who are responsible for distressing their children, and that the courts can’t step in with a one size fits all solution to the problem it can’t fix.

Perhaps Australia needs some maturity education in the curriculum so kids grow into better adults making better decisions BEFORE the kids are born into bad relationships??

And add to that some drivers education to lower the road toll rather than putting up speeding camera’s after we hand out a licence for a quick lap around the block..

Prevention is the cure.

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·         kp:

28 Aug 2009 8:24:08am

I tried shared parenting and flexible arrangements with my daughter but because of a wide difference in parenting style between her mother and I, and her mother’s instability, it just didn’t work out for anyone, particularly our daughter. We also lived on opposite sides of the city, which made travel for school difficult. She now lives with me full time and her mother every second weekend. Her life is more stable and she isn’t tired, grumpy and emotional form travelling all of the time. Ideally she would like to have both of her parents living near each other but for various reasons that is not going to happen. If both parents lived near each other, could communicate effectively and amicably, and had similar parenting styles, then I can see that shared parenting could work. In most other cases I dont think it would. A one size fits all approach cannot be applied as each individual case is different. The problem is that the system is still very adversarial and doesnt address the issues raised by other posters with parents using the child and system to extract vengeance on the other parent. Unfortunately I dont think it will ever be possible for both parents and the child to be happy with the outcomes under any system in the majority of cases.

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·         Liam:

28 Aug 2009 8:27:09am

I know several families who have shared parenting and it works great for them.
My own experience was not so good because my ex-wife resented not getting child support from me. She rectified this by moving to another country and taking our son with her.
Btw my son was the one who suggested spending equal time with both parents. From what i have seen if the woman dosnt want it to work it wont.

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·         Shaun Newman:

28 Aug 2009 8:28:55am

Shared parenting is a failure. The parents each win, but the children lose. They experience a feeling of not belonging to either parent. This is a high price to pay with a future generation feeling displaced.

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·         dusk:

28 Aug 2009 8:32:41am

This policy does treat children like they are objects and was a disaster waiting to happen. These reults do not surprise me at all. The children’s welfare and interests should be the prime consideration in any decision.

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·         jane:

28 Aug 2009 8:32:48am

YES! Just as many of us told you in our submissions when you were considering bringing in ‘mandatory shared care’ – if there is conflict, it is bad for the children. Do not underestimate the effect of minor conflict now PLEASE!!!
People get divorced generally because they can no longer stand each other. One or the other of the couple generally makes the decision that it would be preferable for the child to not have both parents than for them to be exposed to the constant conflict if the marriage continues THEN the law intervenes and ironically causes a continuation of exposure.
Not only does mandatory shared care directly affect the children via exposure to chronic conflict, it also detrimentally affects the child via the effects it has on the parents. When you both become single parents you both need to modify your work schedules and/or secure increased social support. Often one parent is not living in their home town and is put at a huge disadvantage as a result.
The in-laws will rarely offer social support to allow that parent to provide a stable home as they’ll often just wish that parent would disappear.
Maybe a large part of the ‘skills shortage’ and welfare dependance in Australia is due to people being forced to live where they don’t want to!

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o        Bobbie Bleach:

28 Aug 2009 8:46:48am

But “conflict” then becomes just another weapon for one parent to use and abuse. If one parent wants to prevent contact of the kids with the other, all they have to do is ensure or create “conflict” and they will be rewarded for, essentially, putting themselves first and the kids second. Quarantine the parents from each other, thereby eliminating the conflict and allowing contact.

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o        Not Amsued:

28 Aug 2009 9:34:18am

My daughter is a single mother to 12 month twins, the relationship with the father ended during her pregnancy. This has made it difficult for the father from the beginning and he has had problems finding a spot in the lives of 2 babies. Rather than have him cut out of his daughter’s lives I encourage him to visit as often as he can and as my daughter avoids too much contact with him it falls to me to help him build a relationship with his children not to mention basics in feeding and nappy changing. I am happy to give my time to allow him to be a father as far as I can.

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·         Brightwarrior:

28 Aug 2009 8:35:05am

Shared parenting works well if the relationship between the parents is co operative. Children sense the conflict even if covert however they need stability. They need to know what happens next.

The decision should be based on the needs of each child. Some will enjoy the variety, others will find it stressful.

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·         topmountain:

28 Aug 2009 8:38:24am

It should be judged on a case by case basis. I saw that show. I thought it was very, very biased.

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·         Zarkov:

28 Aug 2009 8:48:08am

Separated parents with children face a dilemma

The one that become estranged becomes Santa Clause, while the other has to deal with the day to day discipline

So the child’s love is broken…. that child does not lean to love…. and that failing can destroy that child’s future relationship(s)…usually as an adult there is a series of dysfunctional relationships.

IMO, one parent must (as if) die. One parent must realise that the child can and will build a sound foundation of life skills, as long as there is at least one person there to love them.

That could be one parent, a grandparent or even a foster parent, but to have the child’s love torn between two in conflict is the worst situation of them all.

Hillary Clinton said…. it takes a village to raise a child…. so true

IMO it takes one true love, whereas two in conflict leads to hell

Fathers must, step aside at least until the child is over eight years old.

Under eight, the mother should have sole rights.

Forget about the parents…. the child and the child’s future are all that really matter.

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·         DistantDad:

28 Aug 2009 9:06:06am

My title DistantDad merely reflects the fact that my ex wife took my son to live in the UK before the Howard Laws were implemented. I have a fantastic relationship with my son despite the costs involved in seeing him and total disregard for the requirements of consent orders by my ex wife. Despite all of this, it would be wrong to describe us as a high conflict family.

The argument to revert is like so many other things in our society now where statistical minorities change the rules for teh majority doing or trying to do the right thing. The fact that the study is only based on high conflict families destroys the argument. Sure, identify such situations and act accordingly – but don’t commit the “one size fits all” crime.

The real problem pre the Howard law was that the low conflict family, with the highly involved father was not able to be identified by the Family Court and a ruling made in favour of the child(ren) was subordinated to whatever the mother claimed. Can anyone, anywhere explain how a 15,000km separation of a child, particularly a boy, from a doting, loving, actively parenting father can be in the child’s best interests? Are we going back to that? God forgive us.

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·         Dave:

28 Aug 2009 9:09:59am

There is a mountain of evidence showing the harm to children the old laws did. Shared parenting is wanted by most children and it provides the best long term out comes in most cases by far.
The old laws encouraged parental conflict. Firstly the researchers quoted would focus on extremely high conflict families and conclude it was bad. Then any family with disagreements would not be able to have shared parenting.

If the mother wanted custody she simply had to create some conflict by being obstructive to the other parent. Lawers would give her this advise and it was effective. This was standard practice.

It is only just starting to change now that mothers can see this is not effective. This change takes time but it is a big threat to those people who work in the divorce industry.

If I could write more in this comment I would point out all the contridictions in this “research” and the ex-judges comments.

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·         concerned:

28 Aug 2009 9:10:40am

I feel if parenting was shared pre the divorce than it should continue but if one parent had the full load of parenting and the other parent only assisted when it suited then i feel shared parenting wont work.

I also feel that the children should not have to be the ones to pack up belongings and move house every weekend to stay with mum or dad it should be the parents moving to where their children are.

This then may then give the parents an insight into what these children go through just to stay with them.

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·         Judy:

28 Aug 2009 9:12:01am

Every case needs to be carefully considered, both parents need to be listened to, children need a consistent neutral ear to hear how they are coping with the decisions that are made – throughout their childhood. Judgement should be based on the integrity and quality of each parent’s future plans for their children. Parenting is about nurturing your children towards their independence, giving them the opportunity to have something to contribute to their community and it is a really important job.

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·         Jan:

28 Aug 2009 9:12:30am

How about the children stay in one settled home, with their familiar surroundings, close to their schools and friends and the different parents take turns to come to the childrens’s home. It’s the parents that who decided to separate, not the children.

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·         Andrew C:

28 Aug 2009 9:22:14am

Is the study publicly available? I found

Jennifer E. McIntosh
Family Court Review
Volume 47, Issue 3 , Pages389 – 400
Copyright 2009 by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

But it is behind a paywall. It’s a new paper, so its appropriate to treat the findings as provisional until people have had a chance to scrutinise the methodology.

People need to be very careful generalising from this small study of a presumably carefully selected group of high conflict families, to the vast majority of ‘normal’ separations. The author acknowledges this in the article.

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·         GetReal:

28 Aug 2009 9:23:02am

I cannot believe this is getting the level of respect that it has!

Do we have to go back over all the evidence to show that children benefit from the involvment of both caring and responsible parents post divorce? Do we have to once again go over the problems of the previous regime?

Let me understand this; a researcher, Doctor Jennifer McIntosh from her business “Family Transitions”, looked at children’s development in 130 high-conflict families, some of whom went to court. Wow… what a revelation! Highly conflicted parenting leads to unhappy children! Brilliant deduction Watson!

I would ask why are children spending equal time with the parent who is causing the conflict? We still labour under this notion that there is no fault in a divorce, both parents are good guys and any conflict must be a function of their circumstances… WRONG… the court needs to get off its metaphorical backside and make a determination in regards to the behaviour of parents post divorce… are they behaving in a manner suitable and appropriate for their children? If not, then they should have limited contact with the kids, say the old fortnightly cycle, and given access to education to enable them to realise and correct their behaviour and then further assessment made to review their contact with the children. Simple.

Please, please drop all your hidden agenda’s and understand that these are families who will continue on long past the court actions and long past the divorce is over… what we do as a society has a HUGE impact on their lives… and on the resulting behaviour of our youth.

And for goodness sake, recognise and reject flawed propositions and research, dont pander to it.


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·         rocky:

28 Aug 2009 9:24:47am

Unfortunately most of the distress to the children is caused by the appalling behaviour of their parents. These selfish parents will stop at nothing and the children are just pawns in their bid to hurt or get back at the other party.

I believe shared parenting is still the better option as the current research didnt look at past situations where a mother had sole custody and the harm caused to children by step dads from countless relationships.

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·         Kathy :

28 Aug 2009 9:25:31am

This is the major reason I voted against the Howard Government. They cared only for the interests of men’s rights groups, some of which in the past made excuses for violence against women.

Howard and his cronies (many of whom are still in Parliament) didn’t give a hoot about the wellbeing of children.

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·         Leeanne:

28 Aug 2009 9:26:29am

I think the other aspect to this that needs to be acknowleged is that there are some fathers who pursue the 50/50 rule to reduce their Child Support obligations and to increase their potential share of a property settlement. This does not lead to a ‘quality’ relationship. In some ways it can become the old adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. I have witnessed this in a number of cases with previously ‘disinterested’ fathers. Also, any psychologist will vouch for the value of stability for children. Please, please, put the focus back on the children!!!!

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·         eloquentloser:

28 Aug 2009 9:28:04am

Women were exploiting the system before – and they know that they can do it again. That’s why turning back is a bad idea.

I’ve no doubt that in conflicted environments a child needs more stability, so the results of this (rather narrow) study are hardly surprising. It’s certainly not a sufficient evidentiary basis for changing the law back to the bad old discriminatory days.

As somebody else pointed out, in the majority of cases the court’s responsibility to impose these orders gives BOTH parents a powerful incentive to negotiate, and that’s exactly what I’ve seen recently in the cases that I’m aware of.

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·         M. MacLeod:

28 Aug 2009 9:29:45am

I think it’s very interesting that the assumption is, if 50/50 shared parenting isn’t enforced, it’s the fathers that will miss out.

I know many situations (both past and current) where the child would have benefited with their father being the primary carer rather than the mother: but I know just as many where the opposite is true.

I have witnessed several friends (when I was young) or friend’s children who are almost desperate to not have to leave to stay with the “non-custodial parent” – but frequently that parent insisted on their “fair share” of the child’s time.

How is this good parenting?

Rules, regulations and guidelines are a good start for making decisions about child rearing, but the reality is that every child and family situation needs to be evaluated on it’s own grounds.

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·         michael:

28 Aug 2009 9:32:05am

Unfortunately the family court system is biased towards women and they often ended up with custody. Shared parenting was introduced to give fathers more access. It is not perfect nothing is. The best solution is not to divorcee for both parents to stay together. Unfortunately children when separations occur become a possession. The parent who gets the children gets more assets and gains child support. For example a male who had lots of assets before marriage and a woman who had none, children then allow that woman to obtain the mans assets. If the laws were changed so it didn’t matter where the children went but assets were split on what a person had before marriage they kept and then during the marriage split between the two that would be fairer. If child support was actually based on the cost of raising the children and split 50/50 between the parents that would also be fairer. I am currently paying 82% of the cost of raising two children. I should only be paying 50%. My ex who worked before we separated is now not working. I believe that if the system was more balanced a lot of women would not want the children because there would be no financial incentive. I have a friend whose ex wife does not work and she was trying to stop his children visiting him so she would get more child support. Unfortunately the children mean money. The court system should look at parents who behave in this manner and it is mainly the mothers and they should be removed from their care. Unfortunately sometimes one parent will make thinks so hard for the children to see another that it will damage the children. As a father whose ex behaves that way I have had to take a step back. As a result for the sake of the children I don’t see them. My ex will never stop her nastiness. This is not an uncommon story and I have spoken to lots of adults whose mothers did not want them to see their fathers when they separated. When they become older they realise what happened and they have nothing but anger for the mother. Unfortunately divorcee is not a pleasant experience and financially and family wise males come out of it far worse. I believe that to change the family court there needs to be a quota and the courts have to split custody of the children 50/50 between mothers and fathers. It could start gradually and be say 80% mother and 20% father and then move to 50/50 over a number of years. It is the only way that the court will improve it attitudes towards males if it was the way it was now with the discrimination against woman they would be an outcry. That won’t happen for a lot of people. We do need change one change could be that if the mother refuses to comply with custody orders that she is charged with kidnapping like the father is if he does not return the child. Instead of the father having to pay and see a solicitor the court takes action against the mother. I say mothers because it is mothers who are awarded in 90% of court matters custody by the courts and they are

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·         Essie:

28 Aug 2009 9:32:41am

I think it’s ridiculous to impose a shared parenting arrangement after seperation when it didn’t exist beforehand. The fact is, that when the parents are still together, one parent (yes, usually the mother) does most of the primary care-giving, and the other doesn’t. As a child of divorced parents, pre the shared parenting era, I lived with my mother and my father had weekend access. That reflected the amount of time I’d always spent with my parents. I would have hated being shuttled between houses on a regular basis, my father had no idea about anything, not to mention the fact that I disliked my step-mother.

Questions the judge should ask are: who took time off when the children were sick? Who turned up on sports days, parent/teacher interviews, concerts etc? Who packed the children’s lunches? Who cooked dinner? who helped them with/checked their homework? Who took them to outside school sporting events/music lessons/ etc? who knew the names of their childrens friends, teachers, bullies?

Parents who want their rights to shared parenthood after separation should have considered taking up some of the load before separation. In many cases, forcing a shared parenting situation on children is an unnatural construct which is always going to make children feel uncomfortable, unhappy and take away their stability.

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·         Obs:

28 Aug 2009 9:33:33am

Agree that the child and/or children are the biggest losers from the 50/50 rule. I’ve seen first hand two separate families go through courts and the 50/50 rule applied and ended up being a disaster for the children and the Mums. The Dad’s were losers, both had violence issues, one with drugs and both were in in it just to get more money from the welfare system and at tax time. Very very sad where money has the biggest say, not the child. In the end, these two families trying to forge a new start had the fathers to thank for wriinging them through the court system out of spite and financially crippling everyone in the process.

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·         mOz:

28 Aug 2009 9:35:14am

Not ALL children are hurt by shared parenting, I think this discussion is going overboard with a few facts. Fact is, children need not only and especially their parents but their entire families, particularly in the case of separation. To suggest that it hurts them to provide shared parenting is unfair to both parents and unnecessary (unless of course, violence or abuse is present). The parents are the mother and father of these children. Why are we so desperately trying to separate our children from any one of them?

I think the biggest issue is that those “hurting” their own children are themselves being childish about separation or divorce. Children are used as pawns in games of spite and cruelty to the other party. That’s where the hurt and unfairness stem from. Instead of drawing the kids away from their parents, develop a program and place problem parents through a “be a grown up” course.

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·         Fang:

28 Aug 2009 9:38:32am

It is a laudable argument that both parents should have equal parenting roles with their children – that fathers need to share parenting responsibilities. Indeed this is what women have been arguing for decades. But forcing shared care through Family Law arrangements is clearly no way to encourage critical change in social norms.

The shared care amendments to the Family Law Act were ideological. Experts tell us that in many cases they are deleterious to children’s well being. There are numerous cases of the provision to take family violence into consideration not being afforded appropriate weight in custody arrangements. This means that children are spending time (including unsupervised time) with parents that have inflicted violence and abuse upon their families. It absolutely defies common sense that children are forced into these arrangements.


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