Bruce Young explains how shared parenting is in the best interest of the child and would also resolve the gross injustice of our present child support laws.
The current system of child support payments is congruent with the Family Court ethos whereby the child's best interests come last.
On one hand, the Family Law Act states that a child has the right to know, love and be cared for by both of its parents and encourages shared parenting. On the other hand we have a child support system which encourages the custodial parent to minimise contact between the children and the non-custodial parent. Custodial parents know that if they allow the child access to the non-custodial parent for more than 109 nights per year child support will be reduced and they will be financially penalised.
Current levels of child support payments calculated on the non-custodial parent's gross income are too high, leaving insufficient money for many non-custodial parents to live on.
Many non-custodial parents believe they are better off on unemployment benefits than working - some 30% of non-custodial parents are receiving unemployment benefits, almost 4 times the national average. Some non-custodial parents seek cash-in-hand, barter or other employment to help survive. Others disappearing to avoid paying maintenance.
Many people resort to suicide, murder, violence, alcoholism and gambling out of sheer desperation and the hopelessness of their financial position. Second families of non-custodial parents' are treated differently to children of their first relationship and live in abject poverty.
Many non-custodial parents rightly regard the state endorsed exclusion from their children's lives as a form of child abuse. I concur with this sentiment. To then pay for this abuse on their own children is seen as more than a little objectionable.
Reversing the reward system
Currently the custodial parent is rewarded for limiting contact between the children with the other parent. For the best interests of the child, I would like to see this perverse reward system reversed.
Presently, if one parent goes to court seeking joint custody, they have less than a 1% chance of success. This is due to the adversarial nature of the proceedings and the position adopted by the Family Court in relation to joint custody - don't award joint custody at any cost. The other party seeking sole custody, is in most cases, doing so contrary to the best interests of the child.
After receiving sole custody that they fought so arduously for, they then claim financial hardship, and the parent who wanted meaningful day-to-day care of the child on an equal basis is not only banished, but must now pay for the hardship that the other parent has self imposed against the non-custodial parent's wishes.
Focus on the Best Interests of the Child
A fresh approach is to recognise that children have the right to the love and care of both parents even after parental separation. This is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), is contained in the Family Law Act and is espoused by the Family Court of Australia (although not practised). This is also the finding of most longitudinal studies into post-separation child upbringing.
Following separation parents should not be placed in a combative competitive situation where their relationship with the child and parenting skills are "measured" against each other and the parent with the most "points" after three rounds is declared the winner - this is the usual adversarial technique employed by Family Court. BOTH parents would be sharing in and contributing equally to the child's upbringing. No child support money would exchange hands. If money were to be exchanging hands then the courts would be visibly using the children to address other agendas such as spousal maintenance by another means.
A typical arrangement would be that Dad has the children for 7 days and Mum for 7 days. Contrary to the current practice, NO demarcation on gender has been drawn; the father is not just contributing financially, but physically and emotionally as well, and the mother does not just contribute physically and emotionally, but is expected to contribute financially. Anything less is sexist.
If one party chooses to physically move away from the children or spend less time with the children, then via mediation, this may occur, as long as the party minimising their contact freely chooses to do so and will compensate the other parent for the additional time and expenses involved in looking after the children following the move.
For example, if Mary decides that her work commitments are such that she can only look after the children for 4 days a fortnight, she must pay the other parent 3 days maintenance for the fortnight in lieu of her presence and the costs she would incur in caring for the children had they remained with her for he full 7 days. This might be $30-$45 - based on a rate of $10-$15 per day .
A fairly simple formula, that is arrived at amicably and is "just".
A better system for the children
Under the system proposed above, where joint custody is the norm, most cases would be solved amicably.
A parent seeking sole custody to deny their children the right to know, love and be cared for by the other parent is not rewarded. Instead the party who wishes to have joint custody is rewarded for being co-operative and because this is clearly in the children's best interests.
Any mother or father who wishes to be a positive and healthy influence in their children's lives should be encouraged.
Parents who are obstructionist, angry, and bitter towards the other parent should not be allowed to use the children as pawns.
* Bruce Young is the President of the Society for the Best Interests of the Child.
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