CHILDREN are handed over to violent fathers and women are exposed to further harm in family mediation sessions because of flawed amendments to the Family Law Act. Too often these changes place parenting rights over the safety of children, experts warn.
The changes, made by the Howard government two years ago, have forced women with current apprehended violence orders against their partners into mediation where further threats of abuse occur, the Herald has learned.
And the presence of domestic violence or child abuse made little difference to whether fathers were given overnight access to their children, research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found, prompting calls for urgent reforms to the system and better training for magistrates and mediators.
"If there is domestic violence occurring in that relationship, mediation is not appropriate at all," said Betty Green, convener of the NSW Domestic Violence Coalition.
"It is having horrendous consequences for women who are desperately trying to keep their children safe and yet the family law court is handing over children to violent men who are not necessarily interested in parenting these children."
Ms Green called on the Federal Government to implement urgent changes to the act so the safety of children was privileged over a parent's right to contact.
"The idea of shared parenting is fine in those relationships where prior to that there was some kind of joint responsibility in raising children, but in domestic violence relationships that is not what happens," she said.
"You get a crazy situation where from a state perspective child protection agencies may be involved, where if a mother were to provide contact for the abuser that would be grounds to lose her children because she was exposing them to violence.
"On the other hand, you have a family law court in the federal system that puts that order to one side, and says, 'Here is a father and he must have access rights to his children'."
The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the Government was aware of concerns over the way shared parenting provisions in the act have been applied in cases where domestic violence is present.
"That is why the Government is implementing new accreditation standards that will require all professionals - from mediator to judge - to be able to identify and respond to evidence of domestic violence," he said in a statement to the Herald.
"My department is currently consulting with key stakeholders to find better ways to address family violence in the family law system [and] the Institute of Family Studies is also conducting a detailed examination of the impact of the shared parenting presumption - that review will be completed in mid-2009."
Karen Mifsud, a solicitor in the Women's Legal Resource Centre domestic violence advocacy service, said many women felt pushed into mediation because they were unable to pay for legal representation to go to court.
"We have had clients reporting that they do not want to go to mediation because they feel intimidated or scared but feel they have no option as they need to get some sort of arrangement for children in place."
Domestic violence is listed as a factor in considering the best interests of the child under the Family Law Act, Ms Mifsud said.
"However, it is only one factor and the case law indicates that there needs to be exceptionally high conflict between parents or extreme domestic violence … to be taken into account."
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Notice how biased this article is?
Quotes that "fathers not necessarily interested in parenting",
If the writer was objective and impartial then it would read "some parents seek shared parenting (equal time) for improper reasons.
And, the gender ratio is probably split down the middle.
No mention that child support is a primary reason why women or men seek sole custody especially in other jurisdictions.
Interestingly, the Australian Family Law Act takes into account basically all the factors the feminists use as reasons why the legal presumption of equal parenting should be terminated.