Are Courts Finally Beginning to See Fathers as Equal Parents?

Guest PostFathers' RightsWhen a couple separates or files for divorce, their first thoughts should be about how to create the best possible situation for their children. Studies have shown that children can be greatly affected by their parents’ divorce- the results include a drop in grades, changes in attitudes or behaviour, or even depression.

In an ideal situation, both parents would come to an amicable decision which would result in both parents having equal responsibilities and time with the kids. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many divorces or separations; and often both parties cannot reach an agreement on temporary custody of the kids. This is when the court steps in.

The Family Law Act states that “each parent has parental responsibility for each of their children until aged 18”. The law acknowledges the importance of the parental responsibilities of both the mother and the father to their children. The court encourages both parents to come to an agreement with the best interest of their children in mind. Separation of the parents will greatly affect the overall well-being of the child so it is vital that the parents establish a relatively conflict-free parenting relationship. However as mentioned, if they cannot agree on certain arrangements, the court makes orders about parental responsibilities.

There are four types of parenting orders that are issued by the Family Court: Orders about parental responsibility and decision making, orders about with whom the child will live, child maintenance or child support orders and orders about the communication and time spent with the parent the child does not live with. When issuing these orders, the Family Court does so in the best interest of the child.

However, in a report on Channel Ten’s The Project, they concluded that the social perception of divorced couples is that fathers have been cast as the ‘secondary parent’ while the mothers assume the primary parenting role. Fathers say that there is a discrimination against men when it comes to granting parenting orders and that the mothers always end up in a better situation as far as the children are concerned. They also say that “there is no equality and no equal balance between men and women in court”.

This inequality between parents in court, where mothers were seen as the primary parent, appears to be changing, particularly in the last few years. Family consultants are now being brought in to determine what is best for the child/children. Other important factors are also considered, such as the physical and mental health of the parent, the willingness of the parent to support and facilitate the child’s on-going relationship with the other parent, the ability of the parent to provide the basic necessities of the child, the ability of the parent to send the child to school/provide good education as well which parent is able to provide the best guidance for the child. The judge also takes into account the plan of the parent for their child and the permanence and stability of the family unit in which the child is proposed to live. They also consider reports of domestic violence, abuse and neglect if there has been any. In consideration, courts have begun to weigh up all these factors to determine which parent should be the primary caregiver of the child, as opposed to simply favouring the mother.

This post was contributed by the team at Aitken Partners Law Firm.

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