FAMILY LAW: by Sue PriceNews Weekly
Will Rudd Govt roll back shared parenting?
, February 6, 2010
According to leaks to the media, Australian children less than two years old, whose parents are separated, will be prevented from spending much time with their father.
Information from the Australian Institute of Family Studies' "Shared Parenting Study" - and the report into domestic violence and family law compiled by ex-Family Court judge Richard Chisholm - has been leaked, as is the common practice of governments unsure how proposed changes will be received.
In 2003, when the move towards shared parenting was first raised, Australians overwhelmingly supported the notion, as was shown by various media polls.
The Australian public are entitled to question how the proposed changes can be in the best interest of children. The time a father spends with his new baby is crucial to the bonding process. Recent research has even revealed the fact that men undergo chemical changes to their body when they know they are about to become a father.
How is it helpful to deny a toddler the benefit of his or her father's love and contact? It is feared that this will just be the start, to roll back shared parenting for older children as well.Family violence
The Rudd Government's threat to fathers' rights is two-fold: first, with the questionable claim that children under two years need their mothers more than their fathers; and, second, using the erroneous claims that many fathers are violent towards their children and the mother.
The inquiry into violence has been provided with information which grossly exaggerates the levels of interpersonal violence against women and ignores the same violence against men in the community.
One in three victims of domestic violence is male. Statistics from NSW, Queensland and South Australia support these claims. (NSW 2005, Qld 2009, SA 1999).
However, the idea that one in three women has been abused can only be supported when the participants in self-advocacy surveys are asked, "Have you ever received an obscene phone call?" or "Has a man ever made you feel uncomfortable by making inappropriate comments about your body or sex life?", and these responses are counted in the domestic violence tally.
It would not be unexpected that most men and women may at some time experience a few lewd comments and suggestions. However, this does not make it domestic violence, and should not be counted as such.
The Commonwealth Attorney General Mr Robert McClelland has acknowledged that the reviews have been conducted in the shadow of the Darcey Freeman tragedy. This three-year-old was thrown from Melbourne's Westgate Bridge, allegedly by her father.
This provoked an outpouring of hatred against fathers, as if only fathers murder their children. Yet when Gabriela Garcia jumped from the same bridge with her 22-month-old son strapped into his baby-carrier, less than 12 months previously, similar calls about violent, murderous mothers were not heard.
Again, statistics tell us that more mothers abuse and kill their children than do biological fathers, with mothers' boyfriends adding significantly to the numbers of injured/deceased children. (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2005-06).
For any child to be thrown from a bridge to his or her death is tragic and beyond comprehension for most people in the community; but the death of this child or any other child should not be the motivating factor used to decide the future for the vast majority of separating parents who do not harm their children or the other parent.
Unfortunately, if the former Howard Government's family law changes towards shared parenting are rolled back, it will not just be under two-year-olds denied a relationship with their father; older child will also suffer as well.
The Government may be surprised by the intensity of feeling in the community about the need for both fathers and mothers to be fully involved in a child's life.
The suggestion to limit fathers' contact with children who are under two years of age is based on the misguided interpretation of "attachment theories", which were first promoted by UK psychiatrist John Bowlby in 1951. He studied orphaned children, who had lost both parents during the war, and concluded that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life.
Further research by Brenda Geiger and Joan Newman, published in their 1996 book, Fathers as Primary Caregivers
, found that infants sought proximity, approached, touched, cried or protested separation from their father as much as they did from their mother. The authors found that infants of highly involved fathers cried and disrupted their play least, whereas infants who had low interacting fathers protested separation most.Sue Price is director and co-founder, with her husband Reg Price, of Men's Rights Agency - a non-profit, national organisation established in 1994 to provide support for men and fathers who find themselves facing family separation or discrimination problems.