The Non Custodial Parents Party is not, in fact, a particularly new party, but so far they have had the good manners to stay off my ballot paper and thus off my radar. This year… well, they do have one candidate in Gippsland and they are talking about running in every state, so I’d better take a look at them. I’m going to say up-front that I’m not looking forward to doing this, because they have a whiff of Men’s Rights about them, and they are, at best, apparently oblivious to family violence and the sort of power dynamics that can make it both difficult and dangerous to expect families to work out custody arrangements between themselves.
Their tag-line is “…because children need both parents” and they introduce themselves as follows:
The party’s membership mainly consists of divorced and separated parents, their spouses and partners, grandparents, relatives, friends and anyone else who believes that children have a right to be cared for by both their parents.
Everyone is very welcome to join the Party – this is regardless of your marital or relationship status and regardless if you are have a different or same sex background. No questions are asked in that regard.
All parents, spouses, partners grandparents, relatives, friends and any interested persons are encouraged to join our political party. We are the only political party that specifically supports family law and child support issues.
I’m mildly amused by ‘no questions are asked in that regard’ with reference to same sex relationships.
Their aims are as follows:
The Aim of the Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting) is to:
a. Minimise government interference in decisions that affect separated families.
b. Maximise the initiative of individual parents to make those decisions.
The parents and the guardians of their children are the best people to determine what is the right thing to do for their children – not someone from either the Government or the Family Court.
On the surface of it, this seems benign enough. In most circumstances, it is good for children to have access to both parents, and equal custody sounds like a good plan (though it can, in fact, be quite difficult even in quite benign circumstances – I went to school with a girl who lived with her mother one week and her father the next, throughout her childhood, which meant moving all her stuff every week. It was pretty stressful for her, especially when she was younger.). But there are a few hidden issues here. For one thing, equal custody means that parents must live within a certain distance of each other, even once divorced. I know people who have been unable to take up job opportunities in another city – including moving back home to where their family and friends live, or moving out of areas where they literally could not afford proper housing – because their ex-partners objected and were able to legally enforce this.
For another thing, while it is true that in an optimal situation, everyone would behave reasonably in a divorce and in custody arrangements, this is frequently not the case. Setting aside situations of malice or abuse, people tend to be pretty emotional and angry at the time of a divorce, and don’t always think clearly about what will be the best outcome for everyone. The reason we have family court is that not all divorcing couples can agree on how things will go, and someone needs to adjudicate. (I’d also argue that parents are not always the best people to determine what is the right thing to do for their children, even if they can agree. There have been too many tragic cases of children injured or killed due to parental neglect or abuse for this to be universally true.)
And let’s talk about abuse and family violence for a moment, because if the presumption is that children get access to both parents, that puts parents who have been abused by a spouse into a really awful situation, where they have to see and speak to their abuser on a regular basis. And how effective do you think someone who has been subject to physical and emotional abuse during their marriage is going to be at advocating for his or her interests during a divorce?
The NCCP has three key policy areas, and the first and largest is Family Law – Child Support.
Essentially, they want a rebuttable presumption of equal-time, shared parenting. The impression I had from friends who have divorced is that this presumption does, in fact, exist (and according to this article, it has in fact been law since 2006), but the NCCP thinks that in 95% of contested cases, the mother gets custody. Also:
“equal-time, shared parenting can be rebutted only if there are proven mitigating circumstances that would not be genuinely in the children’s best interests.”
Again, in a best-case scenario, with genuinely good parents who want the best for their children, this works just fine. But these are not, necessarily, the parents we are looking at here. Requiring proof of mitigating circumstances sounds as though the onus is on one parent to prove that the other is abusing the children before equal custody can be lost – and accusing one’s divorced partner of abuse can backfire, leaving the non-abusing parent accused of being ‘hostile’, and losing custody of the children entirely – even when the children themselves beg not to go back to the abuser. We know that not all cases of child abuse are exposed and proven in court at the time of abuse – many do not come to light until years later.
We should not require absolute proof of wrongdoing when children’s best interests are at stake – and we really do need to listen to what the children themselves say they want, and not assume that they are being coached. (And perhaps this is something that should be determined with the help of a child’s teachers and a child psychologist)
The NCCP also wants to repeal Child Support Legislation and the Child Support Program, and are absolutely furious about children over the age of 18 who are still studying can apply for more support, and are even encouraged to do so. They feel that it is illogical to have to pay more money when you see your children less (child support seems to be viewed here as buying access to one’s child, which is an interesting approach, to say the least – they seem to have missed the fact that it is supposed to support the child where one parent is carrying most of the day-to-day costs of child-rearing). Also, it’s awful because “the liable parent often leaves the workforce or takes employment that is below the income taxation threshold” in order to avoid paying child support. This actually sounds like the fault of the person who decides that they hate their ex enough to deprive their children of support by getting a lower paid job, rather than the fault of the government, but what would I know?
We support each parent being equally responsible for the support of their children, according to their means. However, this should be as defined by the parents themselves and not by the Government.
Again, how is this going to work for people in a situation where there has been abuse? Without recourse, it is far too easy to ‘punish’ a spouse who leaves due to abuse by keeping them in poverty.
They want a less adversarial Family Tribunal rather than a Family Court System – so more mediation before going to court. I think I actually agree with them on this one – astonishing!
We support property owned and superannuation entitlements, obtained prior to the relationship commencing, being allowed to remain in the possession of that individual. We believe that they should not become part of the post-relationship settlement.
This change would no doubt beneficially reduce the number of divorces and separations from occurring.
Because women are gold-diggers who marry men for their money, evidently. Sorry, I’ve been trying not to be gender biased here, but I’m getting a bit cross with this lot. They don’t want custodial parents to get their hands on a house that might have been bought by the other parent. Or to benefit in any way from that parent being better off. And look, this is a gender issue, because in the majority of relationships where there are children, it will be the mother who does most of the childcare, and earns a commensurately lower salary than the father. And so she is the one likely to be financially worse off at the end of a relationship, and getting a larger percentage of the custody, which reflects the larger amount of time she has been spending on childcare in the first place. But the NCCP is outraged that she should get any money for this.
And again we have the government losing taxation because of ‘many people being forced to leave employment’.
You are not forced to leave employment if you leave it in order to avoid paying child support, you waste of oxygen, you.
Escalation of any further conflict after a divorce or separation should be avoided.
This sounds like another dog-whistle about accusations of abuse.
Moving on, we have Essential Changes That We Require to Existing Laws, which are largely about enforcing the policies above. I’ll skim over the bits that are repetitive, but note that they find it terrible that Child Support people should be able to access Tax File Numbers in order to assess income. This is a breach of privacy! You should trust us! They want to reduce the link between Family Tax Benefit and Child Support. I don’t quite follow this one, but I do see that they raise the question of whether Child Support is a form of Conscription, these poor oppressed folk.
Wow, and they want to publish details of family court proceedings in the press, the better to publicly shame one’s ex! Oh no, they do actually want to remove names and addresses, thank god, so at least it isn’t a stalking bonanza. OK, now I am entirely confused about what this is intended to achieve.
Right, let’s move on the the Policies (non-Family Law and Child Support). This is a somewhat miscellaneous collection of policies, many of which are actually related to families, so I will look at those first.
They are concerned that non-custodial parents can’t look after their children should the need arise, due to laws around how the Family Tax Benefit is split between parents. I honestly can’t tell whether they have a good point or not at this stage – I’m finding it very hard to give this party the benefit of the doubt right now. I do note that they do not support the withdrawal of child care rebates for parents whose children aren’t immunised. Always good to have a side of unscientific thinking with one’s misogyny, don’t you think? (Yes, I’m pro-vax. Let’s not go there in the comments. I promise, I’ll write a long post about this one of these days and you can tell me how wrong I am then. I think this comments thread has enough potential for horror without adding that argument into the mix.)
The NCCP also explains to us that the Family Law Act is responsible for the increased rate of imprisonment over the last thirty years. In case that made your head spin too, their reasoning is as follows:
Many of our social problems are directly caused by both parents not being allowed to be involved in the bringing up of their children.
To overcome these social problems, we support the need for strengthened shared parenting legislation. This is to ensure the full implementation of a rebuttable presumption of equal-time shared parenting
The Australian Bureau of Statistics published a report titled “Parental Divorce or Death During Childhood” in September 2010. This report found that there are significantly reduced future employment, education and income earning prospects for children of divorced or separated parents.
The resulting social problems that we have in our society can be seen from the number of people that are in goal in Australia
This sounds impressive in theory, but the causality of why children do better in two-parent families is a little more complex. To quote from this review by Susan L. Brown from the Journal of Marriage and Families:
Much of its apparent advantages are due to selection factors rather than marriage itself. That is, marriage does not really make people happier, healthier, and more financially secure. Instead, happy, healthy, secure individuals are more likely to marry in the first place. The benefits of marriage are unevenly distributed. For instance, remarriages or marriages involving children from prior unions are less stable and more conflicted than are first marriages and marriages that include only shared children, respectively. Sometimes, marital breakup can be beneficial for children and adults, particularly in cases of high marital conflict or abuse. Another concern opponents raise is whether welfare funds should be diverted to support marriage activities as opposed to being spent directly on easing the financial hardship that low-income mothers and their children experience.
In other words, unhappily-married parents may not provide a better child-rearing environment than happily divorced ones.
Under education, they are primarily concerned about how schools deal with family law issues, and again stress the importance of involving both parents in children’s education. There is a bit of a whiff of ‘unwarranted interference from principals and/or government’ here, but I can’t quite see what they are getting at, just that they are upset about it.
Edited to add: I have been advised that this may be to do with schools following rules that mean non-custodial parents are not allowed to pick up children from school, for example.
Under Health, they talk about how the health of both men and women is ‘adversely affected by our oppressive family law and child support system’, and then proceeds to talk entirely about male health, and how it is affected by ‘family court issues, child support problems, family violence order bias, false sex abuse claims and gender discrimination’. The subtext here is pretty clearly about women making up stories of violence and abuse to keep children from their fathers. Incidentally, there is nothing here about family violence or actual abuse of women or children, which should give you an idea of their priorities.
Under Housing we learn once again how paying child support leads to non-custodial parents not being able to afford housing. Or to rent. And incidentally, we need to overhaul the family law and child support legislation. You get the picture. But they do want to remove negative gearing, which might be the first thing on this website that I have agreed with.
Under Social Welfare, we learn once again about all these poor child support payers who are ‘forced into the social welfare system’.
Dudes, you are not being forced onto welfare. If you are so angry about having to pay to support your own children that you quit your job or take a lower paying job in order to pay less, that is not the fault of the Family Court. That is your own spitefulness.
This, on the other hand, is pure gold:
Under current family law and child support legislation, having a family can be financial trap. As a result, many Australians are choosing not to go down that path.
Immigration has become an alternative to fixing the real problem caused by our unfair and inequitable family law and child support systems.
Ah yes. I’ve noticed the way our government encourages immigration…
Under Marriage, we learn that there is a general dissatisfaction with marriage, and that “this dissatisfaction is caused by the Family Law Act 1975 and the child support legislation”.
The Family Law Act in 1975 established no-fault divorce in Australia. I’m not sure that this is what they are objecting to – I could have sworn I spotted a mini-rant against no-fault divorce on the site when I first looked at it last week, but I can’t find it now. But, unfortunately, I find it all too plausible that this is something they object to – it fits in with the whole feeling I’m getting through this site that women are untrustworthy gold-diggers who need to be punished if they try to leave their partner.
We do have one bright spot here, though:
We also note that we do not oppose same sex marriage. It is not our business. People have a right to choose which type of relationship that they wish to live in. This is without Government interference.
Also, the Northern Territory intervention is terrible and “quite similar to what occurs under the current family law and child support legislation and judicial practice”.
Lest you think this is a single-issue party, they do have a handful of policies for which Family Law isn’t to blame. They feel that the ADF should stay out of other people’s wars, and that Iraq was a mistake. They want less red tape, but more protection of local manufacturing industries. They want better public transport! That’s two whole things I agree with them on! They are vague about environment and energy – they don’t like nuclear power, and they support both coal and renewable energy. But mostly coal. They feel that we have too many levels of government, and they want a National Water Authority.
But mostly, they are worried about paying too much child support.
The laws that this party want to enact may be intended to provide both parents with access to their children, however as written, they would also have the effect of trapping and punishing people – particularly women – who try to leave abusive relationships. Remove the possibility of no-fault divorce, and you have to prove he’s beating you or having affairs (historically, it was very hard to prove ‘cruelty’ in divorce cases) – this makes it harder to leave until the abuse is severe, by which time you may be less able to do so. Require equal parenting unless there is absolute proof that it will harm the children – and now it’s much harder not to spend increased amounts of time in the abuser’s company, and it also takes more proof to keep a child safe from an abusive parent. Require mediation – ditto, and it doesn’t help that people who have been abused often present as much more scattered, unhealthy, and potentially unfit as parents than the abusers, who are able to present calmly in this situation. Require all child support to be negotiated within the family – and now you have to face your abuser, potentially putting yourself back into a dangerous situation in order to get support to raise the child, negotiating from a position of fear and weakness without an advocate. Put property owned by people before the marriage outside the settlement – so if your abusive partner has prevented you from working, or if you have been a stay at home parent, your contribution to the household is not recognised and you are more likely to end up in poverty.
Add to this the fact that sabotaging birth control is a tactic known to be used by abusers to keep women in a relationship, and you have something that could become incredibly ugly – get a woman pregnant, and you tie her to you for life, with very little recourse.
This whole suite of policies feels like someone looking at the ways someone can leave a dangerous relationship, and systematically closing all the doors.
I don’t for a moment imagine that everyone who is a member of this party thinks like this. On the contrary, I imagine that most members of the Equal Parenting Party are good, kind people, who have been through a terrible divorce and lost custody of their children in distressing circumstances. And this party, which bills itself as the only one which specifically supports family law and child support issues, appears to give them recourse for this. This is a party that is about Keeping The Family Together – no matter what the cost.
The trouble is, the cost can be people’s lives.
My heart goes out to those who have unjustly lost custody of their children. I agree that we need to find ways to help them – but this is not the way to do it. These laws are regressive and dangerous, and would hurt more people than they would ever help.
I’m really hoping that this post won’t hit too close to home for anyone reading this, but if you are in an abusive situation, The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria has links to a number of places where you can get help.