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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11667


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:49): Last month I spoke about domestic violence. Today, I refer to a matter which I believe is often linked to domestic violence. I refer to relationship breakdowns and divorces, the often-messy property settlements and the acrimonious child custody disagreements that follow. Whilst property settlements can be bitterly fought, it is the child custody issues that seem to cause most of the ongoing tensions, because they continue well after these separations have occurred.

I understand that, in over 80 per cent of separations, women get custody of the children. I am told, all too frequently, of fathers who feel unfairly treated. Of course, I do not always hear both sides of the story but what I do hear, often collaborated by other family members or friends, or from my personal knowledge of the family situation, is that the current system is failing many people and, in turn, failing society. To quote one father who recently wrote to me about this issue: 'I feel let down by the system.' Sadly, as I have seen on two separate occasions this year, the situation ended in tragedy.

I speak with or hear from fathers who are refused access to their children or who have unreasonable access conditions imposed on them as a result of false allegations made against them. It seems that this is a common problem. As well, loving grandparents are often unfairly denied access to their grandchildren. Even when custody orders do appear even-handed, there seem to be too many instances of noncompliance with those orders.

Earlier this year, I wrote to the Minister for Social Services about the issue, and I thank the Attorney-General for the reply provided to me last week on behalf of the minister. In particular, I note the statement in the Attorney-General's response that he has asked his department to undertake a scoping study to see how the courts might improve the way disputes relating to the variation and contravention of parenting orders are dealt with.

Given that almost one in two marriages end in divorce and children are involved in around half of all divorces, to what extent is the relationship breakdown contributing to domestic violence, suicide, mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse? Just as importantly, what are the long-term effects on children when the bitterness continues long after the separation, and what is the real and total cost to society? Understandably, when differences cannot be amicably resolved and mediation and counselling have not helped, it is left to the courts to adjudicate. The dilemma with the court system is that it is expensive and adversarial and leads to further tensions between the parties involved. I know this is an issue that succeeding governments have been grappling with for years.

I also note that the evaluation of the 2012 amendment to the Family Law Act found that little has changed as a result of these amendments. We have to find a less complex, less costly and less adversarial process to deal with these separations and we need to do so urgently.