May 1, 2014 by Todd
A new article, published in the Fairfax newspaper The Age, suggests that attitudes towards fathers in family law parenting disputes involving young children may be about to change.
I have worked in family law since 2006. Since that time, the approach the Courts have taken in family law parenting matters to cases involving fathers and their young children has changed on a few occasions.
The traditional assumption that young children (from birth up to school age) had a ‘primary attachment’ to their mothers often led to fathers being marginalised in terms of the time they got to spend with their young children.
The 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act, introduced by the Howard Government, were intended to substantially increase the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children. Those amendments introduced concepts of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’, ‘equal time’ and ‘substantial and significant time’. My experience upon the introduction of these amendments was that fathers were much more successful in obtaining more substantial time with their children than before – including regular overnight time.
Over time, research was conducted into the effect of the 2006 amendments. I recall a special issue of the Family Court Review (a family law journal) edited by Dr Jennifer McIntosh, which strongly put the argument that this research supported the argument that substantial overnight time for young children with secondary attachment figures (often fathers) was not appropriate. The special issue was widely distributed to family lawyers, and from recollection was made freely available to them. The next issue, containing a number of articles challenging the McIntosh argument, struggled to obtain as much traction among the profession.
Since the publication of the McIntosh research, it has been my experience that outcomes for fathers have been less successful. There has, at least to some extent, been a retreat towards pre-2006 attitudes to parenting for young children and away from the attitudes which were pre-eminent immediately after the 2006 amendments came into effect. The trend has been most apparent in reports back to me from clients who have attended mediation through Family Relationships Centres.
A new article, published in The Age, reports on new research in the area. It suggests that the McIntosh research may have been taken too far, and that fathers may have a more active role in the lives of their young children, including more overnight time.
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