Divorced dads want equal time with kids

March 27, 2006 - 9:34PM

Divorced fathers have made a last-ditch attempt to force family court judges to give separating parents equal time with their children.

Debate on the government's contentious family law shake-up began in the upper house on Monday night - the last hurdle it must pass before becoming law.

The legislation, which will overhaul family law, forces judges to consider granting equal time to parents with their children after a family break-down.

The laws are designed to change the adversarial culture of family break-ups and are seen, in large part, as a response to the heavy lobbying of vocal fathers' groups.

But fathers groups remain unhappy with the changes, insisting that judges be forced to grant equal time with both parents.

"The starting point for this bill should be a recognition that it is a natural and paramount right of children affected by marriage and relationship break-downs to be able to spend equal parenting time with both parents," the Lone Fathers Association said in a statement.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has rejected all but three of Labor's 54 recommended changes to the laws.

The opposition wants to better protect separating parents and their children by exempting people in violent relationships from face-to-face mediation.

It also wants separating parents to be better protected from coercion and intimidation when making parenting plans, as well as a cooling-off period after signing the plans.

The government is establishing 65 new family relationship centres to complement the changes to family law.

Families on the verge of break-down will be forced to seek mediation, making the Family Court a place of last resort to deal with only the most difficult cases.

As debate on the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Bill 2005 began in the Senate, Labor was still expressing concerns over the package.

Labor justice spokesman Joe Ludwig said changing the definition of family violence was particularly worrying.

The new definition would require someone to show why they had a reasonable fear of violence.

"Parliament should be very clear that there is no such thing as acceptable violence," he said.

Family First leader Steve Fielding took up the concerns of fathers groups.

"Equal parenting time must be the starting point when considering arrangements after parents have separated," Senator Fielding said.

The Australian Democrats have proposed an amendment to the bill to incorporate intimidating behaviour into the definition of family violence.

Debate on the legislation continues.

2006 AAP