RESPONDING TO: http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/angry-men-have-never-met-a-thug-who-wasnt-innocent/

I like this article. Before anyone says so, I’d like to point out that David Penberthy isn’t stereotyping or even really generalising – as far as family law goes, the ‘reform agenda…has been dominated by the claims of fathers who are disgruntled with family law because they believe it is biased against them.’ [1](Fehlberg and Behrens 2008: 11) That is, although not all fathers who have encountered the Australian family law system have reacted as the Sydney man has, the voices of fathers’ and men’s groups in the past six years have not only been loud, they have been heeded.

The primary (unsubstantiated – I’ll go into this below) claim of men’s groups that the family law system is biased towards mothers has been heard and something was done about it almost immediately after the claim first arose in force. In 2005 the Howard government introduced reforms into the family law system which, in essence, encourage equal parenting time above almost everything else – even, at times, the best interests of the child and the safety of the mother.

For example, the structure of the Family Law Act 2005 (Cth) and its application over the past six years gives the ‘impression that parental involvement is more important than protecting children and adults from violence and abuse.’[2] That is, protection of victims and children from violence is jeopardised by the operation of scheme that includes a limited definition of family violence, alongside an apparent greater emphasis on parental involvement than protection.[3] For example, a parenting order issued under this scheme may order arrangements for time to be organised by the parents, one of whom is a perpetrator of family violence, placing the victim in occasions of risk of violence.

I’ve merely used the example of violence to demonstrate the extreme circumstances in which equal, or near equal, time orders will be made, making it difficult for me to swallow the argument that the family law system is biased towards mothers. But even where there is no violence, there is ‘some inconsistency in the treatment of fault:’[4]

A past pattern of poor fathering and violence is unlikely to prevent a father from seeing his children, yet in another case a mother’s reluctance to facilitate a father’s relationship with the children might well jeopardise her application for orders that the children live with her.[5]

Where there is no violence and equal time orders are not awarded, such decisions are made on sound and logical bases. Determination of time orders consider living arrangements, who has done most of the care prior to separation, standards of parenting etc – all in the broader consideration of the ‘best interests of the child.’ So no, you don’t get a right to have equal time with your kid just because you provided the sperm, or the ovum, as the case may be.

What really gets up my nose is this: men (in the form of fathers’ groups) jumped up and down, and were heard and accommodated for almost immediately, despite the unsubstantiated nature of many of their claims about the system being biased towards mothers (including, for example, that that mothers bring false allegations of violence to gain a tactical advantage in proceedings).[6] Women have been fighting for years for reform of the law’s attitudes to and solutions for domestic violence – and still nothing has been done. In fact, as far as reforming attitudes to domestic violence goes, since the 2005 reforms and the current importance placed on equal parenting (thanks to the cries of the men’s groups), we may have even taken a step backwards.


[1] Belinda Fehlberg and Juliet Behrens, Australian Family Law: the Contemporary Context, 2008, 11.

[2] Richard Chisholm, ‘Family Courts Violence Review’ (2009) 130.

[3] Richard Chisholm, ‘Family Courts Violence Review’ (2009) 130.

[4] Fehlberg and Behrens, 2008: 11

[5] Ibid, 11-12.

[6] Miranda Kaye and Julia Tolmie ‘Fathers’ Rights Groups in Australia and their Engagement with issues in Family Law’ (1998) 12 Australian Journal of Family Law 19, 53-9. Shown to be unsubstantiated in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs’ Report on the Exposure Draft of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility Bill 2005) (paragraph 2.102 p 30).

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