A child’s best interests?
Does maximising time equal a child’s best interests?
Published research shows that some children pay a high price if pressed into sharing their time between their parents according to Gold Coast family law expert, Suzanne Harrison in endorsing moves by the Federal Attorney General in referring the Family Law Act to the Institute of Family Studies for review.
Ms Harrison of Gold Coast Family Law firm, McCowans Family Lawyers said that
amendments to the Family Law Act in 2006 were presented to the public in such a way as to
cause the mistaken impression that the law mandated that children split their time equally
between their parents’ homes.
“Although the 2006 changes to the Family Law Act began a new era where the court’s
decision making process often required consideration of the appropriateness of children
spending equal time with their parents, this was never the “usual” order or the starting point
of what was appropriate. Unfortunately the changes to the law were sold to the public at
large as meaning that equal shared time was the norm or starting point in the scramble to
secure for themselves the maximum amount of time with their children.”
“The misconceptions about the meaning of the act permeated all levels of its implementation,
from parents, to counsellors, even in some instances to judicial officers. Parents felt
pressure to agree to equal shared time in private arrangements and in arrangements
reached with the help of trained dispute mediation which is required before court proceedings
can be implemented. In a significant number of cases shared time arrangements failed to
take into account the age and attachments of children to their primary carer and to the nature
of the parent’s relationship. The published research now available highlights that caution
should be exercised in agreeing to a regime where children move between homes, most
often week about, with each household having routines, household rules, and, of course
surroundings. All of the things that give children’s lives a stable underpinning.”
“In essence the changes to the Family Law Act invited parents to turn away from what is
most important, the child’s best interests. The perception of the law encouraged some
parents to compete for their proper share of the pie, in this case, time with their children”.
Research shows that parents with toxic relationships involving high levels of conflict are poor
candidates to parent their children in a shared time arrangement. Quite distressingly the
research suggests that where children are inappropriately asked to share their time between
two homes they experience rates of clinical anxiety twice the rate in children whose families
The 2006 changes to the Family Law Act created in the minds of the general public and,
some judicial officers, the idea that children sharing time between their parents was the aim
to be pursued. That attitude was at odds with the social science which said that what was
important for children was not the length of time they spent with each parent but what
happened when they were with each parent and, in particular whether they felt they were
loved and cared for.