Australia leads - again

No, this post isn't anything to do with cricket. Yesterday I received a press release from Australian 'equal parenting group' Fathers4Equality, commenting upon recent family law changes in Australia, specifically the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006, which commenced on the 1st July 2006. The Act is part of the Australian Government’s "bold new reform agenda in family law", and introduced a presumption of 'equal shared parental responsibility' which, if not rebutted (for example where a parent has engaged in child abuse or family violence), means that the court "must consider making an order that a child spend equal time with each parent where it is reasonably practicable and in the best interests of the child". If such an order is not appropriate, then the court "must consider substantial and significant time (which includes day to day routine – not just weekends or holidays)".

So what has been the effect of the changes, more than one year on? Fathers4Equality state that "the jury is still out on whether the courts, who have been historically resistant to any form of shared parenting initiatives, will interpret these laws as they were intended over time, but the whole family law reform package put out by the Australian government has underscored a decisiveness for change, that at face value, seems quite genuine, at least for now." The press release gives no details of cases decided under the new system, but Fathers4Equality President Ash Patil says that "with some fathers having already applied for and been granted 5 or 6 days residence out of every 14, we have some hope that things are improving".

Clearly, this is a substantial change in approach to resolving arrangements for children that will no doubt be watched with interest from this side of the world. Will it once again be a case of 'Australia leads, England follows on'?

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