Family Law Blog

Shared parenting or shared heartache?

Posted by on 19 Jul 2011

An article in the June 2011 edition of the ‘Australian Women’s Weekly’ highlights the difficulties many families experience when dealing with the Family Court system, and illustrates how changes to the system may not suit every situation.

As the writer of the article notes, the Family Court was initially established in 1976 as an approachable and more ‘caring’ Court – judges’ wigs were removed and a more informal approach was adopted. The subsequent removal of the need to prove who was at ‘fault’ in divorce proceedings then created a huge increase in the number of divorce applications and the Family Court has struggled to keep up with demand ever since.

In 2006 the Howard government tried to address a perceived bias towards mothers in divorce proceedings for couples with children by introducing the concept of “shared parenting” and encouraging substantial time with both parents as the best way to address children’s interests.

Fathers’ groups (who had lobbied long and hard for changes to the system) broadly welcomed the changes to legislation; however some cases slipped through the cracks and caused even more problems and heartache for families. In the most extreme of these cases, in which one parent believed that the other was ‘unfit’ or a potential risk to the welfare of the children, families were destroyed when the parent fought for the children to live with them but as a result was considered “unfriendly” and consequently prevented from spending any time with the children.

By nature, shared parenting requires parents to communicate with each other effectively. Unfortunately for many families, by the time divorce proceedings reach the Family Court, communication channels have broken down and it is very difficult for the parties involved to reach a point at which they can agree on anything.

While about 94% of cases in the Family Court are settled at some stage during the proceedings, the remaining 6% are left for the Court to make an independent decision about the future parenting arrangements for children. Sadly at times it may seem that the decision is simply the best of two worst case scenarios.

Various enquiries and academic studies are currently trying to identify the most common problems in the Family Court system, and ways in which it can be improved. The very nature of family law however means that it is an area in which emotions run high and not every case fits the ‘norm’.

At Coleman Greig, we provide advice that is tailored to your individual situation and family circumstances. Our experienced lawyers understand the issues at stake and the need to minimise stress and trauma on the family, particularly the children. We can represent you in court but also offer a collaborative family law process in which parties negotiate the terms of their own divorce (including parenting arrangements and property settlements) with the assistance of trained solicitors. This approach minimises stress and trauma on the family, and can draw on the expertise of professional advisers including child psychologists to determine what really is best for the children.