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How much does the break-up of the family cost us?

Judith Collins

18 March 2004

National Party Family Spokesperson

How much does the break-up of the family cost us? Recently I spoke to a group of men who had experienced what for them was the tragedy of a family break-up. Many were no longer working because the financial and emotional cost had become too much for them. One gave me a depressing insight into the situation on the estranged father:

"They give up because they are emotionally thrashed. They give most of what they have financially to their lawyer, they have no home after years of working."

In economic and social terms, what costs do divorce, separation from children, and custody disputes have upon the country? This same person believed that equal shared custody of children as an automatic starting point would allow both parents to rebuild their emotional, financial and working lives.

Many men who have been through the Family Court believe they are disadvantaged because they are men, and the court is more likely to award custody to mothers. Is it the view of most divorced men that their ex-wives are at an advantage because they have access to the Domestic Purposes Benefit and legal aid? By the same token surely we should be putting much more emphasis on keeping families together whenever this is realistic and best for the children. Family break-ups are a sad reality for many. Let's not turn them into tragedies for our children, or for Mum, Dad and grandparents.

The Law Commission has this week produced a comprehensive report on the Court structure and made many wide-ranging suggestions for change. Those relating to the Family Court go some way to addressing the need to open the Court but I suggest, they do not go quite far enough. Even if all the recommendations are accepted, it would still not help a Mum and Dad who waited more than 3 years for a custody hearing - too late to get back their little child. It would still not help people to speak out about their own cases and identify counsel, counsel for the child, social workers, psychologists or judges who they believed had not acted competently. Clearly, no one in their right mind would want distressed children paraded through the news media. What must happen though, is that incompetent or under resourced professionals and government departments should not be able to hide behind the shield of anonymity.

Good news for those concerned about the social engineering that has taken place since the 1970's. The Women's Electoral Lobby has announced that after 27 years it is to disband. Set up in 1975, it now acknowledges that it is past its use-by date. As a relict of a sexist past, it should soon be joined by the Ministry of Women's Affairs - an institution which persists in portraying women as victims.


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