We set our hopes too high. No less than the new Prime Minister of Australia indicated a strong interest in, not just family law reform, but equal parenting. He gave a parliamentary committee six months to consider a presumption that children will spend equal time with each parent.
All of us, all over the world, waited with bated breath, forgetting that a prime minister is not a dictator, and Australia, God love her, is still a democracy. The government and its committee must live in the full political environment. You know what that means: lawyers, feminists, and others each opposed to equality for their own reasons will have their impact.
So when the report was released December 29, the anguish from parents groups has been palpable. A majority of our Affiliate Organizations feel bitterly disappointed, says Geoffrey Greene, Director of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, and that sentiment is echoed around the world. Fifty-fifty residency was rejected. The full report is at www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fca/childcustody/report/fullreport.pdf
It is understandable that 50/50 residency was the target. It is an operative definition of equal parenting, though the simplest and maybe not the best. But while in future articles I will list many of the things wrong with the report, its probably important now to console ourselves with three positives.
First, to open a nut, you first have to make a crack. You then keep working that crack until the nut finally opens. Purely in terms of tactics, consider the route taken to repress all use of tobacco. First came laws against smoking in elevators and TV ads Then smoking sections in restaurants, until now, many North American cities outlaw all smoking, some, even in the street.
Of course, there are multiple lessons in this such as one extreme only replacing another. Feminism began with reasonable demands to also not know where to stop, and we would do well to be careful ourselves. But the tactical point remains: We are being successful. We got sympathetic coverage and public support, so with the nut cracked, we must keep pushing. This is not a lottery: there is no instant win.
The second success is the use of the word, Equal. The first recommendation reads, . . . the Family Law Act 1975 be amended to create a clear presumption, that can be rebutted, in favour of equal shared parental responsibility . . .
If that word alone makes it into the law (and even if it does not as its in the base document), it will be the first time anywhere the assertion of equal parenting has been made. Even Tennessees laws, arguably the most progressive, do not use that term, but still, for instance, require designation of a primary residence. No such thing is in the Australian Parliamentary report. Dont underestimate the long-term importance.
Finally, the report recommends a Families Tribunal with power to decide disputes about shared parenting responsibility . . . with courts only used to enforce Tribunal orders and peripheral cases.
OK, this could be iffy. If the courts can subvert the intent of existing law, theres nothing stopping any other agency from similarly imposing their personal and political agendas. You can bet that any tribunal will get the usual bullying from feminists. This is why explicitly legislating 50/50 residency is important: hard-coded, its a lot more difficult to declare it open to interpretation. Indeed, the same giant kluge in the family laws of all countries remains. The committee re-emphasizes, best interests of the child. That, along with In the name of the Lord and national security, has always meant whatever suits the one using it.
One or the other will come to pass, and there is no reason, yet, to think the worst. The best think is that the committee realized that family law must be removed from being administered by the legal establishment and moved strongly in that direction.
Youve got to feel good about that.
©2009, KC Wilson
To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons. - Marilyn French