The Shared Parenting Debate
When a couple separates, it’s a challenging and emotional time for everyone involved, particularly the kids. Making decisions about who the children live with has never been easy.
With this in mind, the Howard government amended the Family Law Act in 2006, introducing the idea of Shared Parental Responsibility. The aim was to give children the benefit of both parents making important decisions in their lives, and ensure they spend substantial time with each. Prior to this it was usually the case that the children spent the majority of time with their mothers and occasional weekends and mid week meals with their fathers.
Obviously it made sense to change the law. The question is, does shared parenting work as well in practice as it does on paper?
When it was introduced, fathers’ rights groups were understandably delighted. Didn’t this now mean that the father would automatically get the children 50% of the time?
Actually no. There has been some confusion about the terms “parental care’ and “parental responsibility”. What the law really says is that both parents should have equal involvement in their kids’ lives, or shared responsibility, which doesn’t necessarily translate to a 50-50 care split.
In practice, it’s what is in the best interests of the child that determines who the child lives with.
Women’s groups are up in arms because they believe shared parenting causes more anxiety for kids. Their argument is that in the case of a high conflict family, more contact between the parents means more conflict, and that’s bad for the kids.
In addition, women are receiving a smaller share of the property settlement, which has reduced their capacity to reinvest in a home for the children to live in when they are with their mother. They are also receiving less child support (or indeed paying child support) which means that their weekly income is reduced. So it’s tougher financially.
Relocation cases are also affected by the amendment. The law doesn’t say a parent can’t move, but it seems more common for applications to be refused, because separating a child from a parent on an ongoing basis can have negative consequences.
According to Cane Rogerson, a family lawyer at Stacks The Law Firm, shared parenting can work well and she believes that the law is likely to remain in favour of this model. Her policy though, is to refer couples to the Family Relationships Centre to try and resolve issues, and use the courts only as a last resort.
The Rudd government is now reviewing the law, with a report due out in December 2009.
It’s a contentious issue, but as long as the law focuses on what’s best for the child, surely we’re on the right track?