The Prime Minister has announced proposed reforms to the Family Law by stating children must spend more time with their fathers. The centrepiece of these reforms is the establishment of a new network of 65 community based “Family Relationship Centres” located across the country.
This new network will underpin a fresh approach to the family law system, putting the emphasis on reaching agreement at a much earlier stage in the separation process, rather than waiting until conflict becomes entrenched and relationships severely deteriorate.
This is great, but these centres are to be a partnership between the Government and many well-established community services such as Relationships Australia, Centracare and members of Family Services Australia.
But this is where the problem lies. Some of these organisations have no training in family law and child support matters. And our organisation and others like it, are flooded with complaints concerning larger counselling services, where clients feel that they achieve nothing by using their services.
These complaints come from both men and women who say that not only did they achieve nothing, but they felt the services were unprofessional and biased.
Moreover these are not isolated cases and records would show that we have frequently written and spoken to ministers about these very problems. I should add that there are more complaints against some groups rather than others.
We would rather the Government seek out those people who have a working shared care arrangement (and there are many of them in Australia) and engaged them to assist. Grandparents on both sides can also be brought in to help the parents come to a shared care situation. I believe a shared care situation is the only fair way.
Of course, while not every case will end up in a shared care situation, it should be law that parents are required to try and achieve a consensus through mediation to achieve shared care of their children before resorting to further avenues of redress.
We also believe that the Government should engage and fund groups like the Lone Fathers Association of Australia (LFAA) and Parents without Partners to be part of these Family Relationship Centres. This is because both groups are made up of men and women and they strive to achieve fairness and equality. Also members of both groups have been through marriage and relationship breakdown and know that the children need the care, support and love from both parents.
We congratulate John Howard for laying the platform for change and for setting up the special taskforce to reconsider and hopefully make changes to the child support scheme. This taskforce is now underway and I am part of it.
Its now up to groups like us to build on it.
Later this week there will be major publicity throughout of Australia calling on the Government and opposition to show their hand on what they intend to do for fathers involved in relationship breakdown.
- The LFAA is calling for a guarantee of a National Fatherhood Summit to address the fatherhood crisis.
- We are looking for a father-friendly policy for men to support men as fathers and to address the crisis in men's suicide and health.
- We call for the presumption of equal parenting in family law.
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