It appears that the Australian government has embraced a campaign to roll back moderate changes to family law made in 2006 giving children equal access to both their mother and father in the event of separation. At the time these changes were endorsed by both Government and the Opposition.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland released three reports of reviews of the Family Law Act on January 28. One report by Professor Richard Chisholm, recommends complete dismantling of the 2006 shared parenting reforms.

But shared parenting is only happening in a minority of cases. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) reports that only 26 per cent of children aged 5-11 whose parents separated after the 2006 reforms were in place are experiencing “shared care time”, that is, at least 35 per cent of nights with each parent. Why is this outcome considered by the Attorney-General to be “regrettable”?

The real problem in the Family Law Court is that the court operates in a moral vacuum as it is based on the premise of “no-fault” divorce. But fault has always to be apportioned, and so the “new fault” became the male of the species. There have been some terrible judgements by the Family Law Court in the last few years because the court in practice is guided by moral relativism, not the law as it stands.

It is important to acknowledge that this area of family law is difficult at the best of times and the shared parenting changes of 2006 have to be seen within the big picture. If anything, the reports released by the government show that fathers are still being excluded from their children’s lives in far too many cases. Further reform is needed to help turn the tide of fatherlessness.

The Attorney General has proved he is party to a campaign to roll back shared parenting as he released these reports one day before the anniversary of the death of Darcy Freeman — a four-year-old girl who died at the hands of her deranged father. It is good that we remember and mourn the horrific death of this little girl, who died after being thrown from a bridge in January last year. But we should also mourn the horrific death of 18 month old Oliver Garcia, killed by his deranged mother in a jump from the Westgate Bridge, just eight months earlier.

As one family advocate said, “The timing of the release of the reports by the AG was not unplanned, and that they deliberately released the three reports the day before the anniversary of Darcy Freeman’s tragic death in order to play upon and take advantage of her death, so as to manipulatively garner and harness a ‘guilt’ motivation for change”.

Both genders need to work together to reduce and eliminate domestic violence. Such violence against any member of the family, whether by a man or a woman is utterly despicable.
The promotion of fatherlessness by the Australian government in wanting to roll back shared parenting legislation is a form of domestic violence against our children. Our children need a mother and a father. Research shows that fatherless children are much more likely to engage in domestic violence themselves as adults.

We must break the increasing generational cycle of violence that is occurring in our society. The only way forward is to reject the demonisation of either male or female, and support values-based education, strengthen families, support mothers and fathers in their marital relationships and turn the tide of fatherlessness.

Guest poster Warwick Marsh is the founder, with Alison Marsh, of the Fathers4Kids Fatherhood Foundation in Australia.