Do you own your child? Custody access visitation – you all know what these terms mean don’t you, in a variety of contexts. Taken into custody by the authorities – that is one meaning, for sure. Also commonly used when referring to who is the main parent. The term needs no explanation right?
Access — There is access to resources, access to buildings, access to information and access to seeing your children– no problem there, either, right?
Visitation? Well that can be from on high, or it could be something else, like seeing your children when they do not live with you. You might even think ‘visitation rights’
You hear it on the radio, on television and even from the mouths of politicians so it must be right. When it comes to the care of children, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.
We don’t own our children to have custody of them. The other parent’s role is not so diminished that they are only allowed access to their own children, like some meagre gift that’s doled out carefully apportioning part of your property.
Its almost 20 years since the Family Law Act was changed to reflect changing attitudes towards the care of children yet still we hear, even from senior politicians, including almost every Prime Minister to date, the terms, custody and access. The Act changed significantly at that time, replacing those old possessory terms of reference, which implied ownership.
When the Act changed, it reflected the real aspect of family life, focussing on relationships, responsibilities and rights. Each parent has a relationship with their children and they have the right to maintain that relationship just as the child has the right to maintain his or their relationship with each parent. Each parent also has responsibilities towards to promote the child’s best interests and promote the other parent’s relationship with the child
The reality of life is that parents share the care of their children, either equally; the most common arrangement between separated parents, or in some other arrangement that works for their family. Children don’t have access to their parents; they spend time with their parents, significant time, including time that is not a weekend or public holiday. Significant time allows each parent to be involved in their child’s day to day life
Except in extraordinary circumstances or where it’s not practical to do so, the responsibility for making long term decisions about their children’s life, education religion and major health issues, is shared equally. A shared decision making process with both parents being involved in the decision, not one parent alone.
So why, if its 20 years down the track, are we still hearing these terms?
Is it because generally we’re comfortable with those terms? Is it because our politicians feel they are reaching their constituents when they use those terms? Is it because we’re so saturated with American programmes that use those terms so frequently that we fall into the ownership trap of descriptors? I don’t have an answer to that. But when you talk to me and other family lawyers, you won’t hear those old fashioned ownership terms. You’ll hear the reality of life. Your children live with their parents, spend significant time with a parent where the care is not shared and you and the other parent have parenting responsibilities.