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25 May 2011
The Australian

Fears persist after separation

www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/fears-persist-after-separation/story-fn59niix-1226062259682

ONE-in-five parents report having safety concerns for themselves or their child as a result of ongoing contact with the other parent after separation, a new report reveals.

And most parents who report a recent experience of being harmed physically by their ex-partner say their children witnessed the violence or abuse.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, will today release research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which finds parental conflict, fear, abuse, or safety concerns remain strong for a significant number of parents following separation. The government will use the research to boost its case for reform of the family law system to further protect children.

The report, Parenting dynamics after separation and views of adolescents in separated families, examines the behaviour and experiences of parents and adolescents from families that separated since 2006, when the Howard government changed the law to include the requirement children have access to both parents after divorce.

The release of the report comes as the government today begins debate on new legislation asking the Family Court to consider family violence before granting custody to both parents.

Of more than 7000 separated parents who participated in the Longitudinal Study of Separated Families, about 60 per cent reported a friendly or co-operative inter-parental relationship, while about one-in-five described it as involving high conflict or fear.

Experiences of abuse were more likely to take the form of emotional abuse rather than physical hurt. One-in-five parents reported they had safety concerns for themselves or their child as a result of ongoing contact with the other parent.

Almost one in four parents experienced family violence before separation and in many cases, children had witnessed some of the abuse or violence.

The survey was taken in two phases. The results compare what parents reported from the first survey to the second, on average 28 months after separation.

The study found a lower proportion of parents in the second phase of the survey said they mainly relied (or were relying) on discussions between themselves to arrange custody -- 49 per cent against 60 per cent for the first phase -- while a higher proportion nominated use of the courts -- 11 per cent to 5 per cent.

Mr McClelland said: "The government has introduced the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill to create a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children."

The bill faces pressure after the Coalition said it would push for changes to draft laws providing protection for children. Opposition legal spokesman George Brandis said the Coalition had concerns about three areas: the expansion of the definition of "family violence"; the proposed removal of "friendly parent" provisions from the section of the Family Law Act that governs the court's discretion in relation to parenting orders; and the proposed removal of the power of the courts to make cost orders against a person found to have deliberately lied to the court in order to attempt to damage another person.

The Coalition move is understood to follow pressure from fathers' groups.




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