Child Custody | Family Court Decision
A recent decision of the Family Court decided that it was not in the best interests of a child for her parents to have joint responsibility for reaching decisions about major long-term issues with respect to the child. The decision that parents do not share responsibility for a child goes against the usual presumption, but is not entirely unusual. In cases where a court is satisfied that parents ‘just cannot and will not be able to’ jointly make decisions for their child or children, sole parental responsibility will be conferred on one parent or the other.
These cases present in the courts as disputes about proper arrangements for children. They are usually not focused on the best interests of children, but are a continuation of relational conflict. When parents are prepared to expose their high conflict behaviour to a Judge who is going to make decisions about their children, it is obvious that they either lack insight into their behaviour, or have no ability to modify it. When a judge witnesses a display of relational conflict between spouses, that presumably provides some window into the lives of the children who are likely to have or have had daily exposure to the conflict.
It goes without saying that the adversarial legal system entrenches this kind of conflict. It is imperative that these disputes are not seen by the system as disputes about children, and that the focus be shifted to the parental conflict. Addressing that conflict has the greatest prospect of being a ‘best interests’ decision for children. As it stands, the courts have limited options to deal with this behaviour. Orders can be made about parental responsibility and the time children spend with parents. Unfortunately, this is more about harm minimisation than it is about addressing the real problem. With resources and honesty about what is really going on in these cases, our society can surely do much better.