Research - fatherhood - Adrienne Burgess
It should be noted Adrienne is behind
the Government sponsored fathers direct organisation.
Such drivel bodes ill for men. Where are the
facts on violence or substance abuse when the Family Courts
need neither evidence or facts at all.
Where is the understanding of child abuse statistics
showing women to be the greater risk, the biological father
to be safer?
Where is the reality on DV statistics?
And when mediation and leaflets won’t
solve this head in the sand attitude who is going to tell
them to stop wasting tax-payers money on loony schemes.
It’s business as usual in the UK ‘family
meaning mother child stealing’ courts.
Sydney Morning Herald
29 July 2004
One topic, two plans. Perhaps parenting after separation can
benefit from both, writes Adrienne Burgess.
So the Howard Government will announce - any minute now -
its response to last year's high-octane inquiry into parenting
after separation. So far, we know the Government's Big Idea
is for a national network of "family relationship centres",
staffed by mediators and counsellors, to be embedded in our
communities (well, in some of them) alongside Job Network
shopfronts or community health centres.
Ultimately, these will provide all kinds of couple and parenting
support (terrific, given escalating children's distress, and
earlier and more frequent separation and divorce), but at
the outset the focus will be on separating families. Instead
of rushing off to hungry lawyers, mum and dad will first toddle
down to the local family relationship centre.
There they'll be given information (including the sobering
facts about what is likely to happen to their children if
they fight over them), spend a couple of hours with a "parenting
adviser" and - bingo! - come out happy to support each
other's parenting, put their children's needs first and give
up on the idea of setting thousands of kilometres of the Australian
landscape between themselves and their soon-to-be "ex".
The "teeth" in this proposal (in so far as there
are any) lie, first, in the fact that a considerable amount
of federal money will be allocated to it - though how much
will be poured into the bricks and mortar of the new centres,
and how much into the services to families, is up for question.
Even so, this has to be a big plus, given that to date the
Government has resisted all calls for additional funding to
support separating and separated families.
The second "tooth" is an element of compulsion:
any parents who refuse "primary dispute resolution"
and try to head straight for a lawyer without good reason
may be fined, and will probably not be regarded kindly by
any judge they eventually see.
Another good thing about the centres is that they provide
a structure for early interventions (that is, professionals
getting to separating couples before conflict becomes entrenched).
And they may draw in some of the parents the courts never
see, but who researchers know often develop parenting arrangements
that are not in the best interests of their children: fewer
than one in two ever stays overnight in their father's house
again; and only one in three sees their dad at least weekly.
And this is despite the fact that no more than one in seven
non-resident fathers has "issues" such as substance
abuse or a propensity for continuing violence that render
substantial continuing contact unwise.
Weaknesses with the new scheme (as reported so far) lie in
no announcements about legal or process changes to help the
courts discipline intransigent mothers.
And while fast-tracking of child abuse allegations is indicated,
there seems to be no similar process for domestic violence.
Indeed, it looks as if a simple domestic violence allegation
could allow a mother to opt out of the process.
Nor have we heard how the majority of parents who never actually
get into dispute, or who approach lawyers only when conflict
is escalating, will come under the influence of the family
Will it be left to them to drop by if the idea appeals, or
will they be sent there quite forcefully by the government
officials they are most likely to come into contact with when
they are first separating: Child Support and Centrelink workers
And will Job Centre staff, primary health care workers (particularly
GPs), teachers and others who are the most likely to spot
a recent separation, a separation-in-the-making or a child
in distress, be encouraged to do to nudge parents towards
a family relationship centre?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, another government
- the Blair Government - is coming up with its own proposals
to improve post-separation parenting. A green paper published
last week sets out the key parameters for change on this issue.
Blair's interest has undoubtedly been stimulated by angry
dads in Spiderman suits causing traffic chaos in London and
chucking purple flour at him; and by the Conservative Opposition
beginning to go party-political on the subject.
The fact that the green paper was in the names of three senior
ministers from three large government departments is evidence
of the seriousness with which Britain's Labour takes this
issue; in Australia, Mark Latham and co still keep their heads
What's new and different about the British Labour Government's
First, it actually mentions fathers: that is, it acknowledges
that what is going on in separated parenting, with nine out
of 10 "parents with care" being mothers, is seriously
Next, it repeatedly defines the "best interests of the
child" (normally a phrase through which a horse and cart
can be driven) as being best served by a "meaningful
ongoing relationship with both parents".
Third, unlike the Australian plan, it focuses not on the 90
per cent of
parents who make their own arrangements but on the 10 per
cent who go
to court, cost the state a fortune, and put their children
In Britain the approach is tough. Where Howard sees "parenting
plans" as suited only to relatively low-conflict couples,
Blair wants them for high-conflict couples, too, not least
because they set out what a judge is likely to order, and
so make continuing shenanigans less rewarding.
Blair also moots immediate pilot projects to test different
restructures legal aid to provide an incentive for early dispute
resolution, accredits expert family lawyers, explores a "collaborative
law" system, develops in-court conciliation and new case
management guidelines, and will change the law so recalcitrant
mothers can be more easily obliged to adhere to contact orders.
Undoubtedly both new systems have their strengths,
and each can learn from the other. But one thing is certain:
on neither side of the world is this issue likely to go away.
Adrienne Burgess is an international fatherhood consultant,
and author of Fatherhood Reclaimed: The Making of the Modern