Beware the Federal Review of the Family Law Act

Attorney-General George Brandis announced the plans of the federal government to undertake a review of Australia’s family law system. It is about time.

However, Brandis has appointed Professor Helen Rhoades to be the Chair of this important review, arguing that she has ‘extensive experience and a deep knowledge of family law.’

Brandis refers to Rhoades as someone who is deeply ‘embedded within the system’; that is, someone who perfectly epitomizes the current status quo.

Indeed, she has written and edited numerous publications focused on issues related to family violence and child custody issues from a rather distinct feminist point of view.

According to journalist Corrine Barraclough, there are a couple of things you should know about Professor Rhoades:

First, “she snubs shared parenting … This view is based on a belief that shared parenting is so intrinsically beneficial to children that it should be supported even when parents are not able to cooperate or communicate with each other”. As noted by Barraclough, “she’s against shared parenting because exes can’t communicate? How is that in the best interest of children?”

Second, “she frequently quotes discredited Jennifer MacIntosh who … led [deeply flawed] research that said shared care was a source of ‘psychological strain’ for children ‘in her sample’. She’s so renowned, the family law sector has a name for when a father loses access to his children – it is to be MacIntosh’d”.

Contrary to such approach, reliable studies clearly indicate that children often adapt far better to their parents’ divorce if they are allowed to have a continuing and meaninful contact with both of them.

Indeed, a recurring theme in the field of child psychoanalysis is precisely that children of divorced parents often desire very deeply to develop a meaningful relationship with their non-custodial parents (Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly, ‘Surving the Break Up’, 1980).

Whether or not Ms Barraclough’s opinion may be considered just an overstatement, and perhaps not entirely accurate, she undoubtedly concludes with an absolutely fundamental question:

Why hasn’t Senator Brandis appointed an authentic reformist to provide input into this important review?

Surely, one might say, the reform of a deeply flawed system is far too important to be trusted to someone who is known for an anti-shared care agenda, which is most likely to make the system even worse (if that is actually possible!).

Whether this will really be an independent review with the intention of securing the best for the children, I simply don’t know and I prefer to leave this to the final opinion of others.

So far all I can say with a good level of confidence is this: Professor Rhoades, as Brandis himself proudly states, is a mainstream family law academic who is deeply ‘embedded within the system’; one who seems to have a history of repeatedly pushing back against shared care of children.

Who wishes to guess what this sort of ‘review’ will find?