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An Alternative Report On The Care Of Children Bill

Big News with Dave Crampton

An Alternative Report On The Care Of Children Bill

The Justice and Electoral Select Committee report of the Care of Children Bill is out, and the bill is predictably supported by just the Greens and Labour. Two hundred and seventy seven people and groups made submissions to the committee.

Many people wanted a greater openness of the Family Court, but the committee decided against it until the newly appointed Chief Family Court Judge made a strong submission.

About 70 percent of written submissions opposed the bill. About 55 percent of oral submissions opposed the bill, as a greater proportion of predominately homosexual supporters of the bill made oral submissions.

One of the main sticking points for opponents was the permission of abortions for minors without parental consent as per the current Guardianship Act - yet permission is required to get antibiotics. More than 10 percent of those who submitted did so on this one point alone. It appeared that many were unaware, until this bill, that those under the age of consent could currently get abortions without parental consent or knowledge. Yet the committee is not recommending any changes, as no evidence of abuse of this provision was provided in submissions.

Most of those who tackled the main points of the bill – as opposed to just the abortion or same sex parenting issues - mentioned issues such as opposing assisted human reproductive technology to those, mainly lesbians, in same sex relationships, the lesbian ''dads'' clause, S17(2), ( since removed) , the removal of the terms ''husband'' and ''wife'' from the Family Proceedings Act, the openness of the Family Court, shared parenting - and the equivalence of all relationships with marriage. Many, mostly church groups and Christians, appeared to have read the information on the Maxim Institute web site, and based their submissions on the identified points. Some referenced and quoted research from the Heritage Foundation and the Marriage Project.

Of those that supported the bill at least 34 (18 oral) were from those in the homosexual community most of whom followed a template that was circulated around by e-mail, this template noted the following six points and paragraph in support:

1. The resolution of care arrangements with families
2. Parenting orders
3. Personal status of partners when Assisted Human Reproduction processes are used to conceive a child, and contact agreements between such parties and donors.
4. Appointment of new partners as guardians
5. Access to conciliation processes
6. Termination of guardianship

In our community we are aware of situations where the welfare of the children has not been protected because of the discriminatory content of existing laws. The current Guardianship Act leaves children (in same sex relationships) vulnerable.

And that was pretty much the submission.

So, more than 30 percent of submitters focused solely on either opposing the abortion provisions for those under the age of consent or supporting the rights of same sex couples. Labour and the Greens took the advice of the latter and ignored the former, while the other parties did the opposite. And they will do so with the Civil Union Bill as well.

Other supporters of the Bill were from government funded organisations like the Law Commission, AIDS foundation, Rainbow Labour and their affiliates, and the Family Planning Association. Some of these groups, however, expressed serious concerns with elements of the bill and suggested improvements.

The main submission from the unions considered that the traditional model of the male breadwinner supported by a female with primary responsibility for the care of children is no longer describing a typical New Zealand family. They used this to back up the Bill’s position on diversity of relationships. "The trend to more diverse family relationships will continue and it is essential that the legislative framework is capable of responding to the evolving structure of families in future."

The Family Planning Association, in its oral submission, provided additional research documents stating that good parenting and adoption has nothing to do with ones sexual orientation, and that diversity should be recognised and supported.

One couple from a gay advocacy group wrote a submission on behalf of their group, a submission each, and arranged for two of their relatives to do a submission supporting their relationship and the bill. Most gay couples who submitted were lesbians and used a template.

There was some concern regarding the provision that a father of a child is a guardian if he lives with the mother anytime from conception until birth.

Said one submitter:

"This clause is very broad and may adversely affect mothers with violent partners. Violent relationships are often unstable and making guardianship automatic even if there has only been a brief time of de facto partnership may put the children and mothers at risk of future violence, continuing conflict and psychological abuse even though parents have not had a real relationship. Similar concerns have been raised on relationship to clause 18 where guardianship is conferred if the particulars of a child are registered on a child’s birth certificate."

Many submitters noted that there is no definition of guardianship in the bill and there is a lack of a definition of "best interests".

Said one submitter:

"The definition of guardian (in the Guardianship Act) was originally quite sensible when it applied only to the father."

Some noted the judicial disagreement in the distinction between welfare and best interests. Welfare recognises a value judgement.

Some emphasised the importance of fathers and one stressed that it would never be in the best interests of children to deny their relationship with their natural father or to tell them that their mother's female partner is equivalent to their dad.

One group said the principle of "welfare and best interests" should be underpinned by a set of principles expanding on considerations that must be made when best interests are assessed – including attachment/securing and identity.

Some submitters noted the discrepancy between the Care Of Children Bill and the Domestic Violence Act where the Domestic Violence Act defines family violence as physical sexual and psychological where the Care Of Children bill defines it as physical and sexual only (clause 52).

Many of those on the Select Committee consider that the bill legislates the shutting out of biological fathers from children's lives.


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