Family law changes to allow men more access

July 29, 2004

Men involved in separations will get greater access to their children under changes flagged by the federal government.

Prime Minister John Howard will today release a discussion paper examining changes to family law.

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.

"We will be amending the law as the committee recommended to accept that the starting point in relation to any matter involving children is equal-shared parental responsibility ... and that parents should share the key decisions in relation to the child's life regardless of how much time the child spends with each parent," Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.

"So we will be amending the Family Law Act to refer to the need of both parents to have a meaningful involvement in their childrens' lives and the children have a right to spend time on a regular basis with both of them."

Most cases would be handled by a national network of 65 family relationship centres to be operated by churches and community organisations, but the option remained open for trickier matters to go to court, he said.

"The centres will offer assistance to all separating couples whether or not they've commenced any legal proceedings," Mr Ruddock said.

"It will be focused on providing practical assistance and it will help those couples resolve those disputes promptly and before, hopefully, relationships deteriorate and conflict becomes entrenched.

"We see it as a very substantial change and a very beneficial change."

A task force would report on possible changes to the child support payment system in March.