Revaluing the family
By Kate Legge, The Weekend Australian
Thirty years after the introduction of no-fault divorce, Australia is experiencing a grand correction of the 1970s revolution that provided unhappy couples with an escape clause and introduced benefits to help single parents. Changes that brought adults greater freedom are being corrected at the shrine of personal responsibility.
Sole parents and disability support recipients are being encouraged to work or train in return for payments, while fathers and mothers who separate are being persuaded to settle up out of court and share the child-rearing between them. The importance of contact with our biological footprints has been borne out by the stolen generations and the efforts of adopted offspring who search out blood ties.
But the shadow of an ageing population lends an economic imperative to many social policy reforms that shape family life, even though this week’s recommendations to the Government for an overhaul of child support after relationship break-up was presented as a win for the interests of children. Almost two-thirds of these fathers will pay less in child support under about 30 recommended changes to the system for child support, although the Child Support Agency would be given more power to investigate the wealth of the non-custodial parent.
The costs of children would be distributed between the parents according to their capacity to pay and the time they spend with their children. Divorced fathers would be able to quarantine some of their income for their new children before having their income assessed for maintenance payments.
The breadwinner model is resting in peace. The nuclear family is being recast. Both parents in the majority of intact families are working full or part time and the ministerial taskforce addressing child support went to great pains to remove obstacles blocking single mothers’ return to employment.
The new child support formula is another brick on the pathway to creative parenting solutions. “Child support policy can no longer just be concerned with enforcing the financial obligations of reluctant non-resident parents,” the report says, referring to the gains that flow from the continuing involvement of parents as children grow.