This is a good article and not just because it seems to herald a good new direction in Australian Family Law, although it seems to portend exactly that (The Australian, 4/2/09).
As I’ve written about before, Australian family law changed under the Howard government to promote greater access to their children by fathers. The new law establishes the presumption that it is in the child’s best interests for parents to have equal responsibility in parenting. That holds true unless violence or abuse can be demonstrated.
The article throws new light on a case that I’ve discussed and that’s gotten a lot of attention in the Australian press. In it, a father successfully got primary custody changed to him, not because of overt neglect or abuse on the part of the mother, but because of the declining regard his daughter seemed to have for him. That moved some to claim that the new law required parents not simply to refrain from denigrating the other parent but to affirmatively encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent.
But none other than the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant dispelled that myth. She explained that the court’s decision reflected nothing more than its review of experts’ testimony. That revealed that “the children, especially the girl, were at risk of psychological harm if they stayed with the mother.” In other words, the judge’s decision was no ominous portent of courts being forced to turn over custody to parents for trivial reasons like failing to ensure a positive attitude by children toward the other parent.
With that idea residing securely in the dustbin, the anti-dad crowd seems to be left with the threadbare claim that courts routinely award primary custody to abusers. They dutifully trot that out in the article to try to convince whoever is listening that fathers should be denied custody.
Now, we all know that family courts have their problems, but that’s not one of them. There is literally no reliable evidence that family courts grant custody to serious abusers. The few cases in the United States in which that has been claimed have been repeatedly shown to be bogus. And the mere fact that the anti-dad forces continue to cite the cases of Genia Shockome, Bridget Marks and the like is proof positive of how seldom courts award custody to abusers. In each of those cases the courts exhaustively investigated abuse claims and concluded that they were entirely unfounded. If courts truly awarded custody to abusers at all frequently, it would seem the anti-father crowd could come up with a case or two in which it’s happened.
Is it impossible that a court will grant custody to an abuser? Of course not; with so many divorce and custody cases being decided every year, it would be astonishing if courts didn’t award custody to the wrong parent at least occasionally. But the anti-father crowd claims that it’s done routinely and that is simply false.
The article in The Australian suggests that they’re down to their last line of defense, and, if that’s it, it’s a weak one indeed.
Thanks to Jeremy for the heads-up.