Archive for June, 2011
NON-CUSTODIAL PARENTS PARTY (EQUAL PARENTING)
Deputy Registered Officer,
Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting),
28 March 2011.
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committees,
PO Box 6100,
CANBERRA. ACT. 2600.
Re. Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011
We thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committees for providing us with the opportunity to make a submission with regard to the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011
Our submission is identical to the combined media release issued by the Family Law Reform Association and other similar organizations such as our political party.
The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 was introduced by the Attorney-General Robert McClelland into the House of Representatives on 24 March 2011. If passed by Parliament, the resulting legislation will significantly adversely amend the Family Law Act 1975.
The proposed amendments to the Family Law Act are a source of deep concern and dismay to our members and to the many thousands who have sought greater equity and justice in parenting orders made by The Family Court.
Since the introduction of the 2006 reforms giving greater emphasis on shared parental responsibility, doctrinaire feminists, academic ideologues and others with entrenched positions associated with the Family Law system, have been working to overturn them. Now, under the guise of dealing with family violence, the current government’s proposed amendments will effectively sabotage the success of shared parenting responsibility under Family Law.
The proposed amendments will make it much easier to postpone, minimise or terminate parental contact by an allegation of some form of “family violence”.
It is worth noting that a major architect of the proposed reforms preferred a legal presumption that family violence existed in all cases before The Court. Whilst this extremist view has rightly been rejected, the combination of proposed provisions outlined below will come close to achieving the same effect.
In essence, the proposed amendments contain the following provisions:-
Schedule 1. Item 9, subsection 12E(3) and item 32 “Before paragraph 69ZQ(1)(a)”.
The Court, in every case before it, will be required to “proactively inquire” i.e. invite the parties to make allegations of family violence against each other. This is additional to similar obligations on the party’s legal representatives .
Schedule 1. Item 3, subsection 4(1)).
The definition of “family violence” will not be restricted to physical or mental abuse but will be completely open ended. It will include any behaviour a party claims makes them feel threatened “irrespective of whether that behaviour causes harm”, or to feel unsafe. Such fears need not be reasonable but instead are to be totally subjective, based only on the complainants claimed state of mind. The normal legal standard of the reasonable person test will not apply. Thus, it will be almost impossible for an accused to refute such claims.
Schedule 1. Item 43, Section 117AB).
The Family Court does not have criminal penalties for perjury despite false testimony having the potential to create enormous wrongs, injustice and damage. Partly because of this, the Family Court is notorious as “The Liar’s Castle”. The Court’s reputation will be further damaged by the proposed provision to dispense with the existing meager sanctions for those knowingly making false allegations or statements in proceedings. This can only give encouragement to make such allegations or statements. When added to the other proposed provisions it creates a toxic legal cocktail.
Schedule 1 Items 18,19 and 20 “Section 60CC” and Items 26 and 27 (Note 1)).
The dangers outlined above are further exacerbated by the removal of the “friendly parent provisions”. This will prohibit the Court from giving consideration to the extent the parents have fulfilled their obligation to encourage a healthy relationship between the children and the other parent. The Court should not be placed in this legislative “straightjacket”. It is vital that The Court is able to examine all the issues central to the welfare of the child rather than having to operate wearing legislative “blinkers”. Given that the parties before The Court are in dispute, standard legal principles require the Court be able to investigate all issues directly relevant to the merit or otherwise of the parties. Any attempt to fetter a Court of Law in its relevant enquiries is generally condemned by the legal fraternity. Again, this provision reveals a diminished view of the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship between both parents and the child and exposes the true intent of the amendments.
Effects of the amendments
Inevitably and predictably, the amendments will encourage a sharp increase in totally false or grossly exaggerated allegations by one parent against the other in cases before The Family Court. Far from diminishing actual family violence, the following likely outcomes will only increase the risk.
• Greatly increase the workload of The Court and other organisations as a plethora of claims are investigated and assessed.
• Greatly increase the time and cost in settling cases creating a lawyers bonanza whilst increasing stress and frustration to the parties.
• Greatly increase the cost to the taxpayer of operating the Family Court and its associated agencies and the cost to the community as a whole of increased friction and more protracted Family Court cases.
• Increase the demand on limited government funded legal aid.
• Greatly increase the demand for supervised contact centres, already overburdened, costly and unavailable to most parents desperately needing such a service.
• Greatly increase the number of children whose relationship and contact with their non resident parent is terminated, postponed, reduced or otherwise curtailed due to false or grossly exaggerated claims of “family violence”.
• Greatly increase the amount of friction between the parties as one or both take advantage of system’s multiple invitations to make allegations of “family violence” against the other.
• Hamper the Courts ability to identify real and acutely dangerous situations as it is diverted with vexatious, false or grossly exaggerated allegations.
• Greatly increase the potential for actual violence between parties where previously there would have been little or none. This will occur as non resident parents find the system has stacked all the cards against them, dramatically affecting their contact and relationship with the children and all the associated consequences.
• Greatly increase the level of suicide and deterioration of mental health for non resident parents (typically the male). Respected studies have shown that separated males are six (6) times more likely to suicide than attached males. Further, this rate was even higher amongst younger males (thus more likely to have younger children ). Moreover, the highest rates occurred during the divorce phase.
• Without the normal legal protections, the chances of success for the vexatious, manipulative, inflexible, vindictive, dishonest, or mentally unbalanced parent will be greatly increased. Parents with these and similar attributes will readily take advantage of the “free kick” being offered by the proposed amendments. This parent will then become the primary or sole parental role model for the children.
• Faced with the prohibitive cost of pursuing a right of contact, and the associated psychological stress, many non resident parents will simply withdraw, leading to a great increase in the numbers of the
“family law stolen generation” children wrongfully alienated from a non resident parent (typically the father). This will amplify the well documented higher rates of negative outcomes for children brought up in fatherless environments
Impact on legal principles
The proposed amendments have provisions which are unmatched in any other area of law. We believe they offend several basic legal principles:
a) The ambiguity and lack of certainty in the new, unlimited and subjective definition of “family violence”.
b) The presumption of guilt unless an allegation of “family violence” can be disproved which will be frustrated by the subjective test for “family violence”.
c) The proposed amendments will force the judge to ignore the standard legal test of the reasonable person.
d) The restrictions on the court’s ability to investigate the merit of the parties.
e) The lack of any real sanction from knowingly making false allegations and statements in the proceedings.
f) The court making “proactive inquiry” into the single issue of “family violence” tantamount to inviting the parties to make an allegation and additional to similar obligations on the parties legal representatives.
Lack of objective research
Although the amendments are claimed to be supported and underpinned by various academic studies etc, such studies are only valid if they are objectively conducted with an open mind and from a non ideological platform. We have seen no reliable statistics or studies which show:
a) Any significant upsurge in actual family violence, supported by police and medical records since the introduction of the 2006 Family Law reforms and which can be reasonably attributed to the 2006 reforms.
b) Any explanation of how an inevitable increase in tensions, legal costs, case time and demands on limited resources will reduce family violence.
c) Any explanation of how an inevitable increase in the number of cases where parent – child contact is unjustly affected, will reduce family violence.
d) Any studies on the affect on children of curtailing contact with a parent who has had a caring, loving relationship with the child but has been subjected to allegations by the other parent.
e) Any studies on the impact on suicide rates and other mental issues in non contact parents, unjustly denied contact with their children.
Based on our research and experience, we maintain that the 2006 reforms have worked well and sensibly in encouraging shared parental responsibility while at the same time providing appropriate protective measures for adults and children against family violence. The evil in the amendments is to encourage a presumption that family violence and abuse of children customarily exist in contested matters before the Court.
We also believe the amendments are an underhand means of sabotaging the 2006 reforms under the guise of preventing family violence. We vigorously oppose the amendments.
Deputy Registered Officer,
Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting),
– A better solution
Family Law Amendment (Joint Residency) Bill 2002.
(This Bill was proposed by the then Senator Len Harris in 2002, but not adopted)
Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Minister for Justice Brendan O’Connor today released a new Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) report Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia.
In this paper, current knowledge about the extent of children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia is described, along with the documented impacts that this exposure can have on children.
However, a leading men’s health organisation, Men’s Health Australia, says the report completely ignores the largest ever Australian survey of young people and domestic violence.
Published in 2001 by the National Crime Prevention division of the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, the national research involved a survey of 5000 young Australians aged between 12 and 20, and in-depth discussions with special groups, namely homeless youth, victims of domestic violence, and youth from different ethnic backgrounds.
This was the largest sample of young people ever surveyed on their experiences of parental domestic violence in Australia or, most likely, the world.
The main findings relate to young people’s understanding of and attitudes to domestic violence, their experiences of witnessing parental or carer’s domestic violence and of violence in their dating relationships, and how they deal with these experiences.
…the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children must be expanded to include male victims and their children.”
Key findings of this national research ignored by the new AIC report, include:
- Considering physical violence only, nearly a third (31.2%) of young people had witnessed one of the following: a male carer being violent towards his female partner; a female carer being violent to her male partner; or both carers being violent.
- 14.4% of young people reported that this violence was perpetrated both by the male against the female and the female against the male. 9.0% reported that violence was perpetrated against their mother by her male partner but that she was not violent towards him. 7.8% reported that violence was perpetrated against their father by his female partner but that he was not violent towards her.
- Most reported parental violence seemed to be minor, in that no effects were reported by the majority of child witnesses. Where outcomes were reported, the most likely outcome was the separation of the parents. The most severe disruptions on all indicators occurred in those households where both male to female and female to male violence was reported (ie two-way couple violence).
- Witnessing parental domestic violence had a significant effect on young people’s attitudes and experiences. Witnessing was also the strongest predictor of subsequent perpetration by young people. The best predictor of perpetration was witnessing certain types of female to male violence, whilst the best predictor of victimisation in personal relationships was having witnessed male to female violence.
- Where young people had, or were experiencing parental domestic violence, a third of them had not told anyone about it. This rate was higher amongst boys than girls and higher amongst the 12 and 13 year olds than the mid or older teens.
- Young people were more likely to say a woman is right to, or has good reason to, respond to a situation by hitting, than a man in the same situation. And while males hitting females was seen, by virtually all young people surveyed, to be unacceptable, it appeared to be quite acceptable for a girl to hit a boy.
Men’s Health Australia spokesperson Greg Andresen, said, “It is regrettable that these important findings were omitted from the new AIC report. If the government is serious about protecting children and young people from the effects of domestic violence, the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children must be expanded to include male victims and their children.”
Media contact: Greg Andresen | email@example.com | 0403 813 925
On 30th May 2011, the community, media and Government were outraged , when confronted by the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle in Indonesia, and it brought immediate Government action. Within days a whole industry was closed down and a valuable export trade was stopped in its tracks.
Three days earlier on the 27th May 2011, the Government released the ABS Family Characteristics Survey 2009-10 , which indicates that since 1975 almost 24% of Australians have been denied meaningful contact with their biological families, as a result of deep-rooted Family Law policy failure. Yet now one month later, we have still not seen one word in the press and there is not a sign of any community, media or Government outrage.
Instead a deafening silence greets the news of crippling emotional cruelty being inflicted on Australian children and their powerless families. It would appear the health and wellbeing of the nations’ cows is much more important than the health and wellbeing of the nation’s children and families.
Summary of Findin gs
There were a total 5.0 million children in Australia in 2009-10.
(4.8 million in 2006-07)
1. NUMBER OF CHILDREN AGED 0 TO 17, WITH PARENTS LIVING ELSEWHERE.
Just over 1 million or 21% = 1,050 000 in (2009-10)
(Just over 1 million or 22% = 1,056 000 in 2006-07)
2. NUMBER OF CHILDREN WHO SPENT HALF OR MORE NIGHTS WITH THEIR NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT = only 3%. (4% in 2006-07)
3. There were 441,000 non-custodial parents , the vast majority 81% were Fathers.
(82% in 2006-07)
Using the benchmark definition of “meaningful” contact to represent a child spending 20% or more nights per year with their non-custodial parent, it reveals the following disturbing result:
Of the children who had little or no “meaningful” contact, with their non-custodial parent.
* 45% of children never stayed overnight with their non-custodial parent.
(47% in 2006-07). This includes 24% who rarely or never saw that parent.
= 472.500 * 19% of children spent less than 10% of nights with that parent .
(19% in 2006-07).
= 199.500 * 15% of children spent more than 10% but less than 20% with that parent.
(14% in 2006-07).
= 157.500 * Total number of children who had little or no meaningful contact with
their biological non-custodial parent. (844.800 in 2006-07).
This is a slight variation of less than 1.5% over the previous period (2006-07), calling into serious question the effectiveness of Australia’s 36 year old Family Laws and demonstrates the failure of our Family Courts to protect the rights and safety of the nation’s children, and now accumulating into affecting almost 24% of all Australians.
It indicates just 2 out of 10, or 20% of children from separated parents, continue to enjoy ongoing meaningful contact with their non-custodial parent, as per above definition of “meaningful.”
It also means 8 out of 10, or 80% of Australian children from separated parents, are being denied meaningful ongoing contact with their biological non-custodial parent.
As a consequence, there were 352,000 non custodial parents , who had little or no meaningful contact with their biological children living elsewhere. This in turn caused an estimated 1.5 million extended family members to also be denied meaningful contact with their biological families.
All of the above results reveal a crippling, social fallout, from deep-rooted Family Law policy failure, which raises some serious questions. If we consider the above outcome as actually being in ‘The Best Interest of Children’, then perhaps we need to urgently take a very close look at that definition.
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MATT BERRY is facing imminent defeat. His sons have pinned his limbs to the ground. His daughter is sitting on his stomach, pummelling his shoulders.
If he applied himself, Mr Berry could throw them off easily, but he is conceding this one.
”I’ve struggled with that,” he says. ”I catch myself wanting to win and be the dominant male and yet I know it’s better for them to get a win now and again.”
New Australian research suggests intense, physical play – such as that between children and fathers – may be as central to emotional and brain development as the nurturing traditionally associated with mothers. From this perspective, the backyard rumble is a complex negotiation in which children get to experience the outer limits of their own ferocity while their father suppresses his strength advantage to guide the tussle to a safe conclusion.
Among Mr Berry’s offspring, George, 7, has the greatest need for rough play and, from early childhood, would demand his father wrestle him. Clara, 6, loves traditionally feminine toys but, in combat, is ”just as physical”. Charlie, 3, generally watches from the sidelines before launching in. He is ”shy until he figures out what the boundary is”.
Wrestling is a concentrated way of catching up on the contact his children miss during his work day, Mr Berry, 38, says.
”They’re asking, ‘How strong is Daddy? Let’s test him’.”
But he also asks himself, ”Do they want Daddy to be the boss? It does help them get close to you if they know you’re willing to be submissive.”
Child’s play . . . New research shows play-fighting with dad can help children develop crucial life-skills.
The ability to share the wins is a hallmark of positive rough-and-tumble play, said Richard Fletcher, a University of Newcastle child development researcher who is trying to define what elements of the daddy-wrestle most benefit children.
Dr Fletcher videotaped fighting games between 30 fathers and their four-year-olds, analysing the authenticity of the struggle, eye and voice contact and how the father responded if the child went too far.
He found fathers who participated most wholeheartedly in wild but good-humoured rough play were more likely to rate positively their children’s usual behaviour and social skills. This suggested these children were better able to govern thoughts and emotions and was a first step towards quantifying the special role of fathers in helping children develop coping skills through exploration and testing limits. ”It’s not about IQ,” he said. ”It’s about the ability to sustain attention and focus.”
”It’s not about IQ,” he said. ”It’s about the ability to sustain attention and focus.”
Dr Fletcher, who presented his results at a conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in Perth last month, said rats deprived of the chance to wrestle became aggressive and displayed altered brain development, and play-fighting behaviour – with sophisticated conventions to signal the battle was not in earnest – was found in most mammals.
He said the burgeoning volume of early childhood research had ”focused on mothers’ interactions, especially with very young children” in developing emotional security and ”totally ignored” fathers’ role .
ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Unlike the US and the UK, Australia has no criminal law against parental child abduction. Instead, Australia relies on international co-operation to try to get children back.
But that hasn’t helped Lauchlan Leishman. Almost three years ago, his son was removed from Australia by his former wife without his consent. Lauchlan Leishman hasn’t seen his son since. He says it’s proof the system is broken.
A Senate inquiry is currently considering whether more can be done to return abducted children. It’s due to report back to the Government at the end of October, but Lauchlan Leishman says he’s tired of waiting.
Michael Atkin reports.
MICHAEL ATKIN, REPORTER: Lauchlan Leishman fell hard for Gina Fargnoli, a beautiful classical pianist. After a whirlwind romance, they married in June 2003.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN, FATHER: We both liked travelling, talking and reading books and we thought we could have a good, solid relationship based on an intellectual thing, I suppose.
MICHAEL ATKIN: Gina became pregnant. They named their baby boy Cameron. But while they were celebrating the birth, according to Lauchlan, cracks began to appear in his relationship and his two other children became an issue.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: She started saying things to me like, ‘You can’t see your other two children. Forget all your friends that you’ve made up to point in your life. It’s now just you, Cameron and I’.
At International Missing Children’s Day he confronted the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland. “His words to me in front of my friend and the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, was, ‘I will get your file out and get back to you’. I never heard from him again.”
MICHAEL ATKIN: In 2006 they divorced. Young Cameron lived with his mother and Lauchlan visited regularly. Then Gina moved from Noosa to Sydney. But despite the distance, Lauchlan Leishman continued to visit Cameron once a month.
But that all changed in September 2008 when he called to plan a weekend outing.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: The phone was disconnected. The mobile wasn’t answering. So I rang the agent that she was letting from and he said, yeah, she broke the lease last week and she’s gone.
MICHAEL ATKIN: Gina had mentioned plans to take their son to Italy and Lauchlan had raised concerns. But he never thought Gina would take Cameron overseas and vanish without a trace.
It violated a Family Court order requiring one month’s written notice of any intention to travel with Cameron and a copy of a return plane ticket.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: There was never any domestic violence. There has been nothing that she’s – could put up to say that she took him out of Australia because I’m an evil person or something wrong with me.
MICHAEL ATKIN: The Family Court has now granted him full custody. His estranged wife and son are on an international airport watch list and an Interpol yellow notice for missing children has been issued.
He’s also engaged the help of the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department.
In 2009, a private detective tracked Gina to her birthplace, Zimbabwe. But just when investigators were getting close, a major roadblock loomed.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: When I first met Gina, she was working for the then opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is the current prime minister of Zimbabwe. When the private detective was trying to track Gina down in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s heavies – that’s the only word to use – came round to their office and said, ‘Why are you harassing this woman?’
MICHAEL ATKIN: Lauchlan Leishman believes Gina Fargnoli is being protected by powerful interests in Zimbabwe. She has multiple passports and has been able to travel extensively. Now Lauchlan Leishman wants the Australian Government to do more.
At International Missing Children’s Day last year, he confronted the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: His words to me in front of my friend and the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, was, ‘I will get your file out and get back to you’. I never heard from him again.
MICHAEL ATKIN: Robert McClelland says he asked his department to look into Lauchlan Leishman’s case.
ROBERT MCLELLAND, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m satisfied that my department is taking all effective action that they possibly can.
MICHAEL ATKIN: This included contacting Zimbabwean authorities and offering to ignore alleged breaches of the Family Law Act by Gina Fargnoli if she immediately returned Cameron to Australia.
The Attorney-General said this was one of the few options available to the Government.
ROBERT MCLELLAND: We don’t have any international law enforcement authority. We cannot send a team of AFP officers into another country to remove a child or another person. We just simply cannot do that.
She started saying things to me like, ‘You can’t see your other two children.
MICHAEL ATKIN: Lauchlan Leishman’s case is not a one-off. Last year, 125 children were wrongly removed from Australia. 74 have been returned.
Michael Nicholls is an expert in international child abduction law. He says The Hague Convention is effective in most cases.
MICHAEL NICHOLLS, CHILD ABDUCTION LEGAL EXPERT: The 1980 Hague Abduction Convention is widely regarded as being one of the successful international instruments for preventing and deterring international child abduction.
MICHAEL ATKIN: Both Australia and Zimbabwe are signatories, but Zimbabwe struggles to enforce it.
MICHAEL NICHOLLS: There are 85 contracting states to this convention and almost inevitably they vary in their ability to apply it.
MICHAEL ATKIN: International child abduction is not currently a criminal offence in Australia, but is in the US and UK.
MICHAEL NICHOLLS: The advantage of criminalising the abduction is that you can engage international assistance through Interpol and you can seek the recovery of the child through the mechanism of extradition.
MICHAEL ATKIN: At the Attorney-General’s request, the Family Law Council recently considered whether international child abduction should be made a criminal offence. However, while it did recommend some changes to the law, it advised against criminalisation.
ROBERT MCLELLAND: We need to be careful in sending a message which, yes, potentially has some power as a disincentive, that we don’t actually make it more difficult to have children returned, and in particular to cause a situation which is likely to drive the parent who has removed the child further underground.
MICHAEL ATKIN: But Lauchlan Leishman says the law should change.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: It might make people think twice about actually doing the act if it’s illegal. At the moment, it’s not even a slap on the wrist.
MICHAEL ATKIN: At his Cairns house, Lauchlan Leishman waits. It’s almost three years since he last saw Cameron.
LAUCHLAN LEISHMAN: That heart-wrenching: it’s impossible to describe. It’s – you know, what could I say to Cameron if I can see him? You know, I mean, just that I love him.
ALI MOORE: Michael Atkin reporting. And Lateline contacted Gina Fargnoli by phone, email and social media to request an interview. Ms Fargnoli has not taken up the offer.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Michael Atkin
The popularity of Julia Gillard’s government has fallen to the lowest level for any federal government in nearly 40 years, with a new Nielsen poll showing Labor’s approval rating at only 27 per cent.
It also found that 60 per cent of Australians would prefer former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the top job again.
The government’s carbon tax, its resource rent tax, its proposed family law amendments and its asylum seeker plans seem to be playing a big part in the bad polling that has been released around the 12-month anniversary of Mr Rudd’s ousting.
Many people are calling for a SNAP election as most of the policies of this government were never declared to the Australian people during the last election campaign.
- Tina Scierra from Mascot, NSW, claims she took Gillard at her word when she promised that there would not be a Carbon Tax if she won the election, and Tina now feels betrayed by a Prime Minister that has made an art of dishonesty.
- Frason Mills from Perth, WA, says he felt physically ill when the PM did not have the courage to meet the Dalai Lama when he visited Australia. Frason claims that any Prime Minister who cowers to countries like China over important Human Rights issues is simply not worth trusting.
- Elery See from Melbourne complains that as a recently separated father, he is virtually guaranteed never to see his children in any meaningful sense, with the Gillard government’s controversial Family Law changes, that remove any burden of proof in cases of false allegations. Mr See claims that for a government that claims to respect human rights of minorities like gays and refugees, it is proposing Nazi like laws that would presume that all fathers are guilty of domestic Violence.
- John Anderson from the Gold Coast is anoyed that Gillard’s solution over the Mining tax was simply to cave in to the big mining companies. John claims that this is not what he considers a solution, but it is a backflip that he has become accustomed to with this government.
What are your views on Julia Gillard and the current Labor Govt:
- I want a SNAP election - this government is a mess (82%, 373 Votes)
- I want Julia Gillard to be replaced as PM by Kevin Rudd (11%, 50 Votes)
- I support Julia Gillard and the policies of the Labor government (7%, 30 Votes)
Total Voters: 453
If you are a separated father and are finding it difficult to cope with the stress of marriage break-up, you are not alone.
Most men experience extreme feelings of dejection and hopelessness as a result of separation and divorce, and often this is made all the more difficult when we try to deal with our emotions on our own.
If you are a man in the midst of separation, you owe it to yourself and to your kids to get the support you need and deserve, to help you through this difficult time.
Thankfully, many free services are available to men, and it is often just a matter of visiting your GP to get the ball rolling.
Do not try to live up to some unrealistic standard. We all fall upon hard times. There is no shame in seeking help during separation. If you cannot do it for yourself, then please do it for your children.
What is the Better Access to Mental Health Care program?
On 1 November 2006, the Howard Government introduced the Better Access to psychologists, psychiatrists and GPs through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Program.
Free counselling and other rebates are available for consultations with psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.
To qualify for rebates under the Better Access program, a person with depression, anxiety or other mental disorder first needs to get a referral from a General Practitioner (GP), psychiatrist or paediatrician.
Download the following PDF for more information on how to access these health services.
Depressed? Need help? Go to: http://www.beyondblue.org.au
A MOTHER was arrested yesterday after allegedly savagely bashing her 16-month-old son.
The child’s frantic father telephoned police to report the sustained assault.
Police said the 23-year-old woman disappeared with the injured boy for more than a day.
The child was in care last night after being treated in hospital.
The mother beat up the infant at her home in Van Senden Ave, Alice Springs, on Monday evening.
The child’s frantic father telephoned police to report the sustained assault.
The 31-year-old father called police just after 5.30pm to say the attack was under way.
He told police the mother had hit the boy over the head several times with a full can of soft drink before pulling him out of his pram by his shoulder.
She then allegedly picked up the toddler by one of his legs and slammed him onto the ground three times.
The woman then again held him upside down by the leg and slammed him into a metal fence before holding his head under her arm and punching him in the head.
The woman had fled with the boy by the time officers arrived at the home.
She then picked up the toddler by one of his legs and slammed him onto the ground three times.
Police searched intensively for the mother and son throughout Alice Springs on Tuesday and eventually found them back at the Van Senden Ave property just after 4am yesterday.
The mother was arrested and the child taken to Alice Springs Hospital.
The woman was expected to be charged late last night.
While it’s a day all about dad, some fathers aren’t looking forward to Father’s Day, as they won’t be able to spend it with their children. Dads like Brad Corbett, of London, Ontario, have little or no contact with their children due to strained custody situations.
During the separation process, Corbett’s ex-wife had him charged with assault in order to stop his access to their children, then nine and 12. He believes that she had been coached by a lawyer to do so as a tool to ensure she’d receive full custody. “It was well orchestrated systematically,” he explains. “She had been to a lawyer and had me charged with assault. It didn’t matter if it was a false allegation.”
Though the university professor had no pattern of such behaviour or record before or since, Corbett has faced financial problems, feared for his job and had his relationship with his children damaged in the case of the younger, and decimated in case of the older.
Molly Murphy says that this is a situation that happens all too often. She’s written a book illuminating three fathers’ struggles to gain access and regain their dignity in Winner Take All (Dog Ear Publishing, available nationally). Murphy was prompted to write the book when she heard so many woeful tales of men seeking access to their children and having their reputations and finances ruined. A divorcee herself, she’s experienced the problems with Canada’s family law system personally. “I’ve witnessed it and it’s the worst crime I’d seen in my life,” says Murphy.
“Families are set up to fight each other (in divorce). They pay lawyers all kinds of money – from $250 to $500 per hour – and a lot of them lose their income to lawyers, and then (in the case of fathers) have no more money left to fight for custody,” she explains.
Deciding she couldn’t participate in such a travesty when encouraged to go for the family assets, full custody and full support by her own lawyer, Murphy decided to share custody with her ex-husband and that they’d sit down to discuss the children’s financial needs on an ongoing basis. “Not everyone can do that but its best for the children if you can. It truly puts them first.”
Murphy affirms that false claims of assault are sometimes used as weapons in the divorce wars. “False claims of abuse happen; it’s sad but they do happen.”
Corbett has been active in Canadian Equal Parenting Council. CEPC is a national group, according to president Glenn Cheriton, that is trying to bring balance to the system. “We are working to make it (the system) more rational and responsible,” explains Cheriton.
Murphy agrees, “The pendulum has swung from women having no rights to women having all the rights. We have to balance that out.”
Women get full custody in most cases, but Murphy feels that joint custody is the way to go, when possible. “Shared parenting should be assumed. When a child has both a mother and a father, why would one get them, unless the family decides it should be that way because of work schedules or something? And when there are allegations of abuse, make sure they are valid.”
To help parting couples work together for the best interest of the children, and the family as a whole, Murphy feels the solution is to make the system less adversarial. “Get rid of the lawyers and get mediators in there.”
Children are the ones who would win in the long run, and making sure kids are happy and well-cared for is what Father’s Day is all about.
Last week the Federal House of Representatives debated the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 . During the debate , the Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, made a series of false statements to the Parliament and the Australian public.
Regretfully, this disregard for the truth follows a pattern of behaviour by state Offices for Women across the country. In August 2009 after a report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the NSW Office for Women’s Policy issued errata correcting three of fourteen incorrect and misleading statistics contained in its Discussion Paper on NSW Domestic and Family Violence Strategy . In August 2010, the South Australian Ombudsman issued a reportfinding that the SA Office for Women had published false and/or misleading information on the Don’t Cross the Line website, had failed to correct this information, and had failed to act with reasonable diligence and speed once errors were brought to its attention.
In what appeared to be an attempt to bring gender politics into a serious debate about an issue that affects the entire community, the Minister downplayed male victims of family violence by claiming that, “while it is true that men are more likely to be victims of violence [overall], this violence occurs predominantly at the hands of a stranger and in public places, such as the street or the pub, not at the hands of a family member, not at the hands of a partner, not at the hands of those they trust the most and not in their own home.”
The Minister is correct that Australian men are indeed more likely than women to experience violence at the hands of strangers and in public places. What she seems to be unaware of, however, is that this does not mean that men are less likely than women to experience violence at the hands of persons known to them, or in the home.
Additional figures only just released from the ABS Personal Safety Survey 2005 show there is no statistically significant gender difference between the prevalence rates for male and female victims of physical assault by known perpetrators in the last 12 months. They also show there is no statistically significant gender difference between the estimates of numbers of male and female victims who experienced physical assault by family members or in the home in the most recent incident in the last 12 months.
The Minister went on to cite statistics on all violence against women (including the 25% perpetrated by other women) which further confused matters in a debate not about violence in general, not about violence against women, but about domestic and family violence. Overinflating statistics about domestic and family violence against women does nobody any good. If anything it lends support to those in the community who deny that domestic and family violence is a serious issue and reduces the credibility of legislation whose objective purports to be to reduce such violence.
The Minister went on to cite statistics on all violence against women (including the 25% perpetrated by other women)
Ms Ellis then claimed that separated mothers do not make false accusations of family violence and child abuse to gain a tactical advantage in family law proceedings. The only evidence she was able to provide was “a report in 2007 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies finding that the family violence allegation rates in custody proceedings in the Family Court of Australia or in the Federal Magistrates Court are similar to the reported rates of spousal violence profiles in the general divorcing population.”
Surely the Minister must be aware that persons going through custody proceedings in the FCA or in the FMC are ‘the sharp end of the stick’, and are not at all representative of the general divorcing population. Therefore any correlation or not between family violence allegations/rates is meaningless.
In recent community research by VicHealth, half of all respondents said that ‘women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence in order to improve their case’, and only 28% disagreed. It is most likely this is because they had personal knowledge of a friend or family member who had experienced this, or had experienced it themselves.
Ms Ellis then claimed that separated mothers do not make false accusations of family violence and child abuse to gain a tactical advantage in family law proceedings.
A survey of 68 NSW magistrates concerning apprehended violence orders (AVOs) found that 90% agreed that some AVOs were sought as a tactic to aid their case in order to deprive a former partner of contact with the children. A similar survey of 38 Queensland magistrates found that 74% agreed with the proposition that protection orders are used in Family Court proceedings as a tactic to aid a parent’s case and to deprive their partner of contact with their children.
There are many organisations around the country that deal with false allegations of domestic and family violence on a daily basis – Dads in Distress, Men’s Rights Agency, Lone Fathers Association, Shared Parenting Council of Australia, Dads4kids Fatherhood Foundation and Dads on the Air, to name just a few. Perhaps the minister would be wise to spend some time talking to these organisations to gather a more accurate picture of false allegations in a Family Law context.
Women made up 57% of perpetrators of substantiated cases of child maltreatment in 2007-08, and mothers were three times as likely as fathers to abuse their children.
It is clear, however, that the minister and her Government have no interest in investigating the issue of false allegations, as they have commissioned countless studies into the prevalence and impacts of domestic and family violence on separating families, but not a single study into the prevalence and impacts of false allegations. As anyone who has been on the receiving end of false allegations can attest, the impacts are utterly devastating.
Ms Ellis was not the only Government MP who misled Parliament last week. Graham Perrett, Labor MP for Moreton, claimed that “all too often it is men – occasionally women – who hurt the ones they love.” Mr Perrett would do well to look at the latest statistics on child abuse released by the WA Department for Child Protection. Women made up 57% of perpetrators of substantiated cases of child maltreatment in 2007-08, and mothers were three times as likely as fathers to abuse their children.
Thankfully the minister got her facts right about one thing: child abuse and family violence are real, especially during divorce proceedings. As the recent AIFS Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms report stated, they profoundly affect men, women and children:
Around two-thirds of these separated mothers and around half of the fathers reported that their child’s other parent had emotionally abused them prior to or during separation. One in four mothers and around one in six fathers reported that the other parent had hurt them physically prior to separation. Around one in five parents reported safety concerns associated with ongoing contact with the child’s other parent.”
However there is no reason to throw away due process – as the government’s proposed amendments do – in an attempt to protect people from child abuse and family violence. Supporting what appears to be the current fashion in Federal Government circles, not only to mislead the Parliament, but to support perjury in the family court, the current draft of the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 effectively says to families going through the family law system, “it’s OK to lie – go ahead, you have our blessing.” It does so in three ways.
Firstly, it removes the ability for the court to award costs against a party who has been found to have “knowingly made a false allegation or statement in the proceedings”. Let us be clear here – under present legislation someone who makes an allegation of violence but simply lacks the evidence to support their claims cannot be found to have “knowingly made a false allegation”. That is, no untoward consequences can arise for someone making a genuine report of family violence under current laws.
Family Law Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 effectively says to families going through the family law system, “it’s OK to lie – go ahead, you have our blessing.”
Secondly, it removes the “reasonableness clause” which requires that any claims of fear as the result of violence or abuse be established as reasonable - in order to prevent persons making up unwarranted claims of fear purely as a legal tactic during court proceedings.
Lastly, it widens the definition of family violence so broadly that almost every family going through relationship breakdown will fall under it. The proposed definition incorporates much normal conflict in separating families as well as the abusive behaviours of ongoing dominance or violence that must be addressed. It is unrealistic not to expect heightened emotions, and even raised voices and “put-downs”, in most relationship breakdowns. There needs to be a distinction between this normal behaviour and the abuse of physical assault and emotional terrorism.
This cocktail of changes will give carte blanche to any parent (male or female) wishing to lie in court to use the spectre of family violence as a weapon against the other parent where there is animosity and conflict (and it is commonly accepted that it is primarily those failed relationships where extreme conflict exists that find their way into court). The resulting clogging up of the court system will mean that cases of serious violence and abuse will not be given the time, attention and resources they deserve.
We have heard recent reports from family law solicitors that should the proposed changes to the Family Law Act be passed, violence allegations will be attempted to be used by solicitors as a legal strategy much more often than they are currently.
Fortunately the Government’s deception and the support for perjury that the draft Bill provides were called to attention during the debate by George Christensen, member for Dawson. In his colourful but honest and straightforward speech, he dared call a spade a spade:
Mr CHRISTENSEN: Earlier in this debate we heard the Minister for the Status of Women tell this parliament that no-one uses claims of family violence in such a way. I have some very bad news for the minister: it actually does happen. It happens every day; and if she is not aware of it happening then she is gravely out of touch with reality. If the minister does not have any contact with her own constituents, perhaps she could spend a few minutes at her laptop doing some research. Here is the sort of thing that you can find in two minutes: the newspaper headline ‘Ugly feud fought on Facebook’. The article tells about a Family Court hearing late last year. At the end it says:
She had already strung the case out by falsely claiming her ex-husband had been sexually assaulting their children after one judgment went against her. Then she falsely claimed the father’s new wife had been assaulting them. ‘The mother has over the years attempted to manipulate the court system,’ Justice Barry said.
That is just one case that can be found with two minutes of Google research, and yet the minister came into this House and said that making false allegations of family violence and using family violence as a weapon in the courts is a myth. Do some homework, Minister.
The fact that this minister has told a lie to this parliament-
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke): The member will withdraw.
Mr CHRISTENSEN: I will withdraw, but I will say that the minister has told an untruth to this parliament. It is clearly not true to say that it is a myth.
It is possible to draft balanced laws designed to both protect people from violence and from false allegations of violence – both cause immeasurable harm to the lives of victims. The current Family Law Act already does this very well. It appears that gender politics are more important to this Government than the truth. They appear to care not one iota about protecting people from the false accusations of violence and abuse that all too often deny children an ongoing relationship with one of their loving parents.
By Greg Andresen – posted Thursday, 9 June 2011