Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Family Court

7:49 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since I first spoke on the deep problems associated with the Family Court, my office has been deluged with emails, calls and visits. This issue is a raw nerve in our community, with broken families, damaged children, angry mothers and fathers, and people left destitute after being done over by the Family Court industry. As recently as last Friday, I received a communication from another father left broken by the system. This man is now destitute and homeless after going through the Family Court.

Tomorrow I will co-chair a parliamentary roundtable with the member for Dawson, Mr George Christensen MP. The topic will be on shared parenting, family law and men's health. Canadian author and researcher Dr Robert Kennedy will be our guest at this event. Dr Kennedy has studied fathers, shared parenting and related issues for 25 years. He has studied the global shared parenting movement and completed interviews in the UK, the US and parts of Europe.

While Dr Kennedy's research has been offshore, his insights are valuable and relevant to Australia. Initial findings suggest that, in a separation or divorce, fathers are often viewed as secondary or unnecessary social parents. Dr Kennedy says fathers are frequently seen simply as economic support. He says there are many problematic issues in family law systems that are similar amongst Commonwealth countries. His research shows a widely held belief that the family law system is self-serving. Many believe the Family Court system does not operate in the best interests of the children, parents or anyone. Even lawyers, he says, who have been through the family law system as divorcing parents acknowledge the system is, at best, poorly designed for dealing with separating and divorcing families. I have had similar meetings with Australian lawyers who have been through the family law system as participants rather than as legal representatives, and they say the same things: the system does not work, it is poorly designed for dealing with families and it puts children at risk.

Dr Kennedy says that politicians he has interviewed acknowledge that the family court systems in their countries are 'broken' and damaging to participants. Many of those he interviewed refer to the system as a 'family law industry'. It is devoid of justice and creates broken and broke parents. Daily I receive communications from Australian parents bled dry emotionally and financially after their Family Court experience. Dr Kennedy's research indicates that after separation and divorce, those interviewed wanted 'continued parenting'. They wanted some sort of shared, joint, or equal type of parental arrangement that acknowledges that they are not divorcing or separating from their children. Many of those interviewed reported wanting a family-friendly system that is not financially, emotionally, and psychologically draining and that focuses on the 'true best interests of the children'. Dr Kennedy's research shows that, when possible, parents should avoid courts completely. They should be able to resolve their issues privately by using a system that is radically different from the current one they are in.

It is a complex problem we face, but complexity should not be a deterrent. Families are at risk. Mothers, fathers and children face enormous dangers in our Family Court system. I urge anyone who cares about the damage being done to our families to attend our round table tomorrow night. My office would be happy to provide further details.