An Appeal on behalf of the Family Court
Letters to the Editor - The Australian 14-04-00

The article "Problem parents doing time" (Focus 8-9/4) reflects little
credit upon your newspaper and its journalistic standards. It is riddled
with inaccuracies and contains unsourced personal accounts. It gives undue prominence to the views of well-known critics of the family law system without providing any balance.

The article asserts that Family Court orders are virtually unenforceable.

Yet the vast majority of orders are complied with and are enforced when they are not complied with. The fact that difficulties are experienced with the enforcement of orders in a small minority of cases has more to do with the people involved and their attitude to the orders than it does to the issue of enforcement.

Whatever may be contained in the government's proposed legislation, the court already has the power to imprison people for non-compliance, exercises it sparingly and has not sought any additional powers in that regard.

It is plainly wrong for the article to assert that Family Court rulings cannot be appealed from on the grounds of error of fact. If a judge makes a demonstrable error as to a material fact, the decision is liable to be set aside on appeal. A number are.

A caption to a photograph asserts that the welfare of second families is not taken into account by the Family Court. Child support legislation does limit what the court can do on appeal from assessments, but this is hardly the fault of the court.

The article speaks as though the current federal Government invented the encouragement of dispute resolution to avoid litigation. The first thing that the Family Court does when approached by separating couples is to refer them to its counselling and mediation services. Approximately 70 per cent of proceedings that commence in the court are resolved within four months and only 5 per cent ever require a judicial decision. We are considering the introduction of further measures to encourage people to resolve their differences as early as possible. The Government's reductions in legal aid are having the reverse effect.

At least there is one point on which the author and the court agree: imprisonment is a blunt instrument that is rarely in the interests of the children involved.

Chief Justice, Family Court, Melbourne.

The Article 'Problem' parents doing time drew timely attention to plans to jail parents for breaching Family Court Orders. However, the article presented only one perspective.

The Family Law Amendment Bill before parliament expands grounds for jailing parents who do not comply with Family Court Orders. The article rightly states "the maintenance provisions will mainly affect men while the penalties for parenting orders will mainly affect women" and then goes on to canvas only the maintenance order issues.

While building sympathy for parents who won't pay, the poverty of children living without child support was not presented. The article gives mainly men's perspectives on men's problems.

The public needs to be aware also of the implications of a mandatory sentencing regime proposed for parents who don't comply with parenting orders. Parents jailed under the mandatory sentencing regime will not necessarily even have the benefit of legal representation.

Given the public acknowledgement by the Family Court and the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs that there are problems in legal processes responding to child protection, the consequences for affected children and women and men after separation there is no advance in justice in the jailing of parents.

Co-Executive Officer National Council of Single Mothers and their Children - Adelaide

There are now children living un families where the taxable income of the father is equivalent to average weekly earnings, or greater, but in reality are living on less than half his wage. This is  because a major percentage is being removed from his gross wage for child support.

The Child Support Agency was designed to lessen the demand on the public purse, but the residential parent receives government support, (sole parent pension, family allowance, family tax assistance, guardian allowance, transport and medical concessions). this combined with a percentage of the non residential parent's gross wage determined on the number of children born in that relationship) often encourages residential parents to remain at home on the benefits. On the information I have received to date, this is tax-free. Quite often this income adds up to more than the non-residential parent's second family is living on.

With the percentage of this gross wage removed, the non-residential parent is left with little money to cover the basic necessities of survival for himself and second family. Government concessions are denied as the means test is based on his gross wage. Most cannot even claim medical benefits if the child falls ill during contact time.

The law needs to be changed so that all children with the same father will benefit equally. Children from a second relationship are disciminated against by the formula used by the Child Support Agency. We do not wish to deny our stepchildren financial security, we simple seek the same security for our whole family.


Partners of Paying Parents
Mitcham, Vic

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