A new Bill which removes the presumption that separated parents should automatically have equal access to their children has been put to Australia’s parliament today by MP Graham Perrett.

Perrett launched the Bill after an estranged husband who murdered his wife and their three children in February sparked outrage in Australia.

Hannah Clarke and Aaliyah (6), Laianah (4) and Trey (3) were set on fire inside the family car after Rowan Baxter poured petrol over them. Mr Baxter stabbed himself to death, after preventing onlookers from trying to put out the fire inside the car.

Ms. Clarke and Mr Baxter were engaged in mediation over contact with their children.

Several national news outlets reported that the father had a history of violence and sexual assault. He had also been subjected to a domestic violence order shortly before the incident took place for trying to kidnap their eldest daughter in December.

Perrett told Australia’s parliament that removing the presumption would prevent abusers from manipulating the law to control or harm ex partners and their children.

“There is a widely shared misconception that equal shared responsibility means equal shared care,” he said, adding, “This can incentivise an abusive partner to litigate their parenting dispute.”

The Bill is supported by several family law experts and domestic violence researchers.

Women’s Legal Service Queensland has also backed the Bill, through the creation of a petition which has gathered almost 3,000 signatures.

The petition page explains that up to 85% of family court cases in Australia involve domestic and family violence, and that from a statistical perspective, the presumption increases the chances of children being exposed to violence.

Debate in the UK about whether England and Wales should implement a presumption of equal and shared parenting took place last year. Fathers’ rights groups such as Families Need Fathers campaigned for the law to be changed so that children would have to spend roughly equal time with their parents after a separation or divorce.

Attempts to change the law in Britain have not been successful, after a Bill produced by a Conservative MP proposing a presumption of shared parenting failed to make its way through Parliament.

Current legislation in England and Wales states that the involvement of the non-resident parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare, but does not go so far as to create a presumption about the amount of time a child should spend with each parent.

Many thanks to the National Child Protection Alliance for alerting us to this development.


Photo courtesy of ABC News