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Custody overhaul to improve men’s access to children

Thu 29th July 2004

The Australian Federal Government has announced an overhaul of family law arrangements, with plans to give men involved in marriage break-ups greater access to their children.

The changes also include new centres to provide compulsory mediation to separating couples.

The shake-up does not include a new families tribunal to hear custody cases, which was the key recommendation of a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said today one of the key changes would be an amendment to the Family Law Act to entrench equal-shared parental responsibility as the starting point in disputes.

But the Government has rejected a call within its ranks, and from men’s rights lobbyists, for equal time and a new $500 million tribunal.

The proposed changes are designed to remove an alleged vagueness from the Family Law Act that critics claim allows lawyers to steer judges to favour mothers and which reflects other community concerns that Australian children are being brought up in fatherless households.

The changes will ensure men are given greater statutory assurance that they can see their children, proponents claim.

The Family Law Act will be amended to stress the ideal that both parents should have a meaningful involvement in their children’s lives. It will also acknowledge a right for grandparents in the custody process.

Weaknesses with the new scheme (as reported so far) lie in no announcements about legal or process changes to help the courts discipline intransigent mothers.

And while fast-tracking of child abuse allegations is indicated, there seems to be no similar process for domestic violence. Indeed, it looks as if a simple domestic violence allegation could allow a mother to opt out of the process.

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