Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Open letter calls for support of amendments to Family Law Act after previous laws ‘favoured fathers over mothers’

A family lawyer has urged Australian women to get behind proposed amendments to the Family Law Act, which would abolish the default presumption of parents spending equal time with children.

user iconLauren Croft 09 February 2023 Politics
expand image

While fathers’ rights groups have been around since the 1970s helping fathers to see their children, there are fewer organisations specifically for supporting separated mothers, one family lawyer has argued in an open letter to Australian women.

Mediator, arbitrator and accredited family law specialist Lynette Galvin said that “this shouldn’t be a gender issue, but it is”.

The exposure draft of the Family Law Amendment Bill became available to the public for consultation on 30 January this year — and is open for submissions until 27 February.


“No one knows how or if the bill removing the presumption of equal shared care will be amended before it becomes law and what those amendments might be. It depends on the submissions made, and the Parliament’s response to those submissions,” Ms Galvin wrote in her open letter.

“One thing we can be sure of is that the men’s rights groups around Australia will organise themselves to make submissions to Parliament with their members’ (father’s) point of view. Therefore, unless women speak up individually in greater numbers, then the men’s rights groups will be the loudest voices heard.”

The Family Law Act was amended in 2006 to provide a presumption of equal shared care and equal time between children and both parents — but Ms Galvin said that now, Parliament needs to hear both sides of the story to properly consider the 2023 amendments.

“The trouble with that amendment is that shared parenting can be damaging for some children. Some kids just aren’t going to thrive. The presumption makes no allowances for the children’s individual needs, nor their ages. Prior to these amendments, the judges used their discretion and took into account a myriad of factors when deciding what best suited the children in each case.

“The amendments to the law changed that with lawyers seeing their clients as being bound by the presumption,” she said.

“In the evaluation paper in 2009 commissioned by the government at the time, people with family violence, safety, mental health or substance abuse are the predominant users of the service and legal sectors. This means that most people are able to sort out their children’s matters between themselves quite amicably. Typically, lawyers only end up in court or litigation with parties where one of these issues is at play.”

Ms Galvin has been a family lawyer for over 35 years — and has been practising since before the amendments and after the amendments, seeing their impacts.

“On behalf of the children of the future, I am asking all women who have anything to say to make those submissions, so that this time, the men’s rights groups are not the loudest voices to be heard.

“The courts are beginning to recognise the concept of coercive control and post-separation abuse and how the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and equal time with the children has been misused in that context and to the detriment of the children,” she wrote in her open letter.

“In the past 17 years, some children have grown up entirely under the 2006 amendments, and I am worried that the psychological damage to them will become evident in the future where children have been exposed to family violence in the form of coercive control and a continuation of that family violence because of the presumption of equal shared care.”

Ms Galvin warned that “if women don’t get heard” now, a whole generation of children could be negatively impacted, and added that the 2006 amendments “favoured fathers over mothers”.

“All parents should welcome the proposed removal of the presumption of equal shared time. It is not just mothers, but also some fathers who suffer the abuse of their partners.

“The new legislation proposes to make all of the issues about the child come into consideration and allow the court to properly use its discretion to come to the best decision for each child in each case,” she wrote.

“I call on all women who have any input in this field or any knowledge in this field, professionals or people who have experienced family law to put their submissions in and make their voice heard. It may be 17 years before we get another chance.”