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The Australian

Dads who fight win favour in custody cases

FATHERS who want custody of their children will have more success in the Family Court than by trying to strike a deal with their ex-partners.

The Australian, Australia's national daily newspaper, By Michael Pelly, March 24, 2009

In a break with conventional wisdom, fathers are twice as likely to get majority custody of their children if they take their fight to the court.

A Family Court review shows fathers were given majority custody in 17 per cent of litigated cases, but only in 8 per cent of those settled by consent, or early agreement, with the mothers.

The review of the shared parental responsibility reforms of 2006 shows that in 14 per cent of litigated cases, the father received between 30 and 45 per cent of custody. This figure fell to 11 per cent for early agreements.

The review shows that, if fathers are given less than 30 per cent custody, abuse and violence are the main reasons. And about one in 12 court cases end with an order that a child should spend time with their grandparents.

The reforms, passed by the Howard government, introduced a rebuttable presumption of "equal time" parenting and were aimed at promoting co-operation over conflict.

However, only 15 per cent of the litigated cases and 19 per cent of the consent agreements ended in orders for 50-50 care between the parents.

The biggest group was mothers who were awarded the majority of time with their children -- they represented 60 per cent of the litigated cases and 68 per cent of consent cases.

The survey assessed 1448 of the 6992 litigated cases in 2007-08, and 2719 of 10,575 cases settled by consent or early agreement.

The biggest group of men (33per cent) were those awarded less than 30 per cent custody. Abuse and family violence was the main reason in 29 per cent of these matters, followed by entrenched conflict (15 per cent).

Of the 9 per cent of cases in which women were awarded less than 30 per cent custody, mental health was the dominant factor in 31 per cent of cases followed by distance and financial barriers (16per cent) and abuse and family violence (16 per cent).

Substance abuse was cited as a main reason for the Family Court making sub-30 per cent orders, with 4per cent of the fathers were and 7 per cent of mothers.

In 6 per cent of litigated cases, the father was ordered to spend no time with their child. The same order applied to only 1 per cent of women.

The information, which was posted on the Family Court's website yesterday, came with a warning that the court considers only the most serious cases, with the remainder being handled by the Federal Magistrates Court.

When the Coalition passed the Family Law Amendment Act (Shared Parental Responsibility Act), it established 60 Family Relationship Centres around Australia as a first stop for couples in conflict.

"The aim was to encourage parents to consider, where appropriate, reaching an agreement regarding parenting arrangements in the first instance themselves rather than having the court as a first option," the court said yesterday.

"Given this, it is to be expected that there might be a higher number of shared care or substantial sharing of time cases negotiated outside the courts."

The figures show grandparents have been a beneficiary of the reforms, which specifically said their access rights were to be considered.

An estimated 560 cases -- or 8per cent of the litigated cases -- end with orders containing provision for time with grandparents. The figure fell to 2 per cent for consent agreements.

A spokeswoman for the Family Court said the statistics should not be compared with pre-2006 data because of the changes in legislation and the way the information was collected.

The court is working with the Australian Institute of Family Studies on cases that were decided before 2006 and can be compared with matters decided under the new legislation.