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Shared parenting isn't always best for children

By Gillian Coles and Denise Rieniets - posted Monday, 20 September 2004

The Ideal

BPW (Business and Professional Women) Australia supports the overarching principle that in all Australian families, shared parenting from birth is an ideal we should strive for. Children need the love and support of both parents in a happy home. However not all families are ideal, and those where there is relationship breakdown are often far from ideal. As a nation, we should be supporting such families to best meet the individual needs of their children.

Current law

The Family Law Act is premised on ensuring the welfare of the child. There are currently a number of principles written into the Family Law Act which require the Court to consider the best interests of the child in making any orders about residence and contact in situations of family breakdown.

There is no disputing the fact that the current law is not working effectively, but the fault is not in the law but in the application of the law, the lack of funding and resources made available to the Courts and the support organisations that are currently in existence.


Proposed changes to the law in 2003

The proposed changes were premised on ensuring the rights and welfare of parents. It applied a one size fits all principle that took no account of the circumstances of individual families and individual children. The families that require the assistance of the Family Court to resolve their differences are not “ideal” families. On the whole they are more dysfunctional and troubled. For these families, there is a need for more resources, services and support directed at assisting them in effectively parenting their children.

The proposed amendments assumed that all parents and children want a shared parenting arrangement, whereas the reality is that most separated parents who are able to arrive at their own arrangements without the assistance of the Court, do not choose shared residence. The lives of most parents and children do not readily fit shared care and neither do families’ resources.

What Australian families need

BPW Australia believes that as a family-friendly nation, Australia should remain committed to children. Their needs should be of paramount consideration when applying the law to resolve disputes that arise as a result of the painful and costly social phenomenon of relationship breakdown.

A better future for Australian families in all their shapes and sizes requires a policy that fits the child rather than one that requires the child to fit the policy. A presumption of shared care when parents separate fails to focus on the needs of children.

BPW Australia was relieved that the Family Law Act retained its child focus but we need to remain vigilant that this continues. It needs to be recognised by government that the current system with its resources and systems that are already in place must better resourced and funding should be allocated to ensure that the system remains child-focused.

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About the Authors

Gillian Lewis Coles is the South Australian State President of BPW Australia and a Senior Policy Adviser in the South Australian Department of Health

Denise Rieniets is President of the BPW Adelaide (Business and Professional Women) and has her own law firm.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Gillian Coles
All articles by Denise Rieniets
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