PM likely to reject custody tribunal
The Age, Australia, By Annabel Crabb, Political Correspondent, January 20, 2004
Prime Minister John Howard looks set to reject a plan for a new, lawyer-free tribunal to handle Family Court custody matters. "I'm not convinced," he said about the recommendations of his child-custody inquiry, which lodged its report on December 29 last year.
The bipartisan report urged the Government to set up a tribunal to allow family members to reach agreements aided by mediators instead of fighting it out in the Family Court.
"I don't know that it necessarily will produce a Read More ..ficient and just outcome," Mr Howard said. "I mean, I've got an open mind, I'm prepared to be persuaded, but I'm not blown away by it."
He said there were good ideas in the report, which stopped short of recommending a presumption of 50/50 shared custody between separating parents. Instead, it found they were entitled to "shared responsibility" in the big decisions in their children's lives. "I think the emphasis on joint responsibility is very good," Mr Howard said.
He said the Government was likely to "have a fairly early look" at the report, with a view to implementing some of its recommendations.
He said he understood why some non-custodial parents were disappointed with the present system. "The problem here is that, in the minority of cases where parents don't reach sensible agreements, a small but significant number of non-custodial parents feel that they are being shut out of any kind of decision-making in their child's lives - it does happen," he said.
"People behave in a vindictive and irrational manner, in all stratas of society."
The president of the Lone Fathers Association, Barry Williams, who has lobbied MPs and the Prime Minister for changes to the child-custody system, said he was relieved Mr Howard did not appear to back the tribunal. "We think it would just end up being another tier set up at public expense," Mr Williams said.
"Men would be just put through the mill again." He said shared responsibility should guarantee both parents a legitimate input into major decisions.
"Children should be able to ring the other parent whenever they feel like it, and both parents should have an input into how the child grows up - what school the child goes to, what religion and so on."
Mr Williams, who runs a counselling and assistance service for fathers, said the Christmas season had been a difficult time for non-custodial fathers. He said he had encountered 41 cases in three days of access arrangements that had not been honoured, resulting in nine attempted suicides.