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Alternative Law Journal

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Editors --- "Legal - Studies" [2003] AltLawJl 77; (2003) 28(5) Alternative Law Journal 253

Joint custody- time for a change?

As a preliminary exercise to this activity students should ex­ amine their own values about the rights and responsibilities bf parents as well as the relevant laws.

Preliminary exercise

• What are the rights and responsibilities of parents?

Divide the class into groups. Ask each group to draw up a chart of the rights and responsibilities of parents. As a class compile a list of rights and responsibilities for parents. Consider which rights or responsibilities are recognised by the law.

• How does Family Law decide the rights and responsibilities of parents?

For this exercise students look at the provisions of the Family Law Reform Act in defining parenting responsibilities when parents separate. Do students consider that there is a difference between the roles and responsibilities of mothers and fathers? For this exercise students could use their textbook or the Family Court website <>.

At the Family Court website go to 'Legal resources'. Go to 'Brochures'. Go to 'Parental responsibilities and parenting orders'. Answer the following questions:

1. How does the law define who parents have responsibility for?

2. What is a parenting order?

3. How does the Family Law Reform Act define 'responsibility'?

4. What is the role of the Family Court in relation to parenting orders?

5. Outline the four main types of parenting orders.

6. Who can apply for a parenting order?

7. How are the views of young people taken into consideration in deciding on parenting orders?

A rebuttable presumption of joint custody

Before you read the article 'A rebuttable presumption of joint custody' by Becky Batagol on p. 229, use a dictionary to define the following terms:








Students should read the article. Working in pairs, they should answer the following questions:

1. The article refers to the changing roles and expectations of mothers. Thinking about the changes in our society over the past 100 years, how do you think that the role of women has changed? How do you think these changes have altered the traditional role of women?

2. According to the article the Prime Minister has identified custody as a 'hot button issue'. What does he mean?

3. What does the term 'rebuttable presumption of equal time' mean?

4. Which groups in the community have argued in favour of a rebuttable presumption of equal time? What arguments have they presented to support their view?

5. According to the article, what are the stated objectives of the Family Law Act in deciding on the rights and responsibilities of parents in the care of their children following a divorce?

6. Outline the key arguments for and against the concept of a rebuttable presumption of equal time.

7. The article identifies a number of conditions that need to be present for equal time arrangements to be effective? What conditions are identified in the article? What other conditions do you think are necessary for equal time arrangements to be workable?

8. The article states that 'unnecessary engagement with the legal system and litigation may result from the introduction of the presumption'. Explain how this change in the law may result in increased litigation.

9. How may the presumption of equal time impact on the best interests of the child?

10. The article concludes that a change in the law is a back-end solution. We need to examine issues such as:

• quality parenting

• flexible child care arrangements

• flexible work practices

• real wage parity for women

• education.



1. Examine the role of groups in influencing the change in the law. Using the following Internet sites, outline the views of the following groups on the proposed change in the law. Find out more about the views and composition of these groups:

DADs <>

Australian Institute of Family Studies <>

2. A Commonwealth parliamentary committee is currently considering the need for a change in the law. Using the Australian parliament's website, undertake research to answer the following questions. Go to <>. Go to 'Committees'. Go to 'House of Representatives'. Go to ' Family and Community Affairs'.

- What is a parliamentary committee?

-Who are the members of the Family and Community Affairs Committee?

- Look at the 'Terms of Reference' for the 'Inquiry into Child Custody Arrangements in the Event of Family Separation'. What issues will the committee investigate?

- How do parliamentary committees allow for a review of community views on the need to change the law?

3. Discuss the implications for the law of the following statements:

A parent overly concerned that he sees his child exactly the same amount of time as his ex-spouse becomes more of an accountant than a parent.
There is an increasing public interest in fatherhood.
... the rebuttable presumption of joint custody ... is support for a proposition that women (who are statistically most likely to initiate divorce) will remain in bad marriages to live with their children full time, in preference to leaving and living with their children half time.

The most important element in determining the success of parenting arrangements is the quality of family relationships.

Jules Aldous

Jules Aldous teaches legal studies at She/ford Girls Grammar School in Melbourne and has written several legal studies text books for secondary school students.

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