Divorce Applications and Proper Arrangements for Children
In Australia, it is a requirement for Divorce that proper arrangements have been made for any children of the marriage. A Divorce Application asks questions about the living arrangements, health and education of the children.
We could now do away with these questions.
Recognition of the importance of children’s care and support in separation is universal. We all know that comes from parents agreeing to formal or informal parenting plans, and generally trying to act like the grown-ups. It comes from making sure that proper financial support is provided for their children, one way or another.
But, the goal of ensuring that has never, and will never, be satisfied by answering brief and largely superficial questions in a Divorce application. The required information is to assess for proper arrangements, to ensure children’s wellbeing. But this pays lip service to children’s wellbeing, and little more. No real enquiry is made about the children, beyond the basics, and as long as the parents are in agreement, their assessment is accepted. The outcome is not thoroughly or objectively tested against the goal, so why do we persist?
The timing of an application for Divorce too, means it is at least a year after separation, which is awfully late to be ensuring the housing, child support and emotional care of the children, isn’t it? If the purpose of the “proper arrangements” questions were truly child-focused, it is too little, at least a year too late.
In the age of declining formal marriage, and when same-sex parents still can’t marry, there are many children involved in separations about whom the system asks no questions. Divorce Applications now have a corresponding decline in relevance to “proper arrangements”.
Because there are so many children born of relationships that never require their parents to file a divorce application, there is a large class of children about whom no enquiry is ever made. The only conclusion I can reach is that this creates a separate class of children, which is as unpalatable as it is unintended.
The “proper arrangements” questions are a relic of the fears surrounding the introduction of the no- fault Family Law Act. What we know about divorce, separation and the wellbeing of children has developed, including our understanding that the time for plans about children are immediately before and after separation, and many months or years before their parents decide to make it formal.
Isn’t it time to assign dissolution of marriage to administrative status, and to ensure that the system asks questions about proper arrangements for all children at the time their parents separate?