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Critics claim mens’ groups ‘hijacking’ family law reform debate

By February 17, 2016No Comments

The motion passed in the Senate this week calling for a root-and-branch review of the family law system in Australia has caused alarm amid fears that vigorous lobbying by mens’ rights activists may do far more harm than good if laws are changed as a consequence.

At face value, a review of the family law system appears to be a welcome concept, given the repeated criticisms of the current family court crisis in recent times. There has been widespread agreement amongst members of the judiciary, academics and domestic violence policy experts, as well as parents going through proceedings, that there are major deficiencies in the family court system. But in the wake of the successful Senate motion, serious questions are being raised about the motivations behind and potential consequences of the mooted review. Where debate has previously centred on questions of resourcing and funding and the delaying of timely judicial appointments as being behind the lengthy delays suffered by users of the court system, the motion dispensed with these concerns and claimed that increases in funding or numbers of judges are not the solution at all.

Writing in The Saturday Paper, Nijole Cork  describes how the individuals behind the motion, a coalition of mens’ rights activists calling themselves the Family Law Reform Coalition (FLRC), have “captured the ear of the crossbench and is rewriting the Family Law Act by stealth”.

The motion calls…for the Family Law Act to be simplified and shortened, and makes particular reference to “gender equality, and equal parental care and responsibility”.

The FLRC suggests bypassing the Family Law Court and establishing a “National Family Commission” under the auspices of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. They propose domestic violence and child abuse matters be referred to local courts and the police to enforce order breaches.

The FLRC also proposes the overturning of key reforms made in the 2011 act, to reintroduce presumptions regarding shared care and costs for making “false allegations”.

However, critics point out that “local courts are not trained or equipped to address the complex matter of domestic violence and child abuse: the suggestion to do so trivialises the seriousness and extent of those issues, and would place children at risk.” What is more, “Despite the amendments in 2011, there is still a presumption of shared responsibility and an emphasis on shared care in the Family Law Act.”  As Ms Cork writes,“mandatory shared parenting can never work because children are not the property of parents.”

Terese Edwards, of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, told The Saturday Paper:

“We are deeply concerned about any challenge to the principle that the courts must ‘prioritise safety over contact’. Child safety should always be granted primacy. We do not want to see any resurrection of the ‘unfriendly parent provisions’. This stopped women from reporting violence.”

 “With the increased awareness of domestic violence and investigation of process, we are seeing that violence is under-reported, poorly investigated and inadequately managed. Claims by the men’s rights fraternity that women manufacture violence using ‘false allegations’ to get an upper hand in child custody have long been disproven.”

With the motion being seemingly aimed at separated fathers’ rights rather than being clearly focused on the best interests of children, there is also criticism that “the Madigan motion makes no mention of children’s attachment, development and stability needs.”

Ultimately, fears are that “the overall aims and language of this current motion, supporting papers and proposed changes are tactical and unsubstantiated. They rely on emotive men’s rights rhetoric – “parental alienation”, “false allegations” and “gender inequality” towards men. This is the language of a virulent lobby group, blindly focused on the rights of fathers. It takes serious concerns, then inflates and distorts them, putting at risk women and children. This is the language of the people who now have family law in their hands.”

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