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Shared care not in the best interests of the child

Shared care not in the best interests of the child

Since the Shared Parenting Bill was first debated in New Zealand in 2000, shared care has been touted by justice officials as the answer for children impacted by divorce despite family court evidence and research to the contrary.

Tolmie, Elizabeth and Gavey in a NZ Law Review Article on the subject of shared care published in 2010 say the literature raises serious questions about the advisability of 50:50 care arrangements in situations where the parents are in conflict and are unable to prevent children from witnessing or becoming involved in that conflict, or where the children are very young.

Five percent of divorcing parents will choose to litigate in the family court with many of these cases going on for years, until the court deems them finalised.

“When someone has to take a case to court that in itself suggests the relationship is high conflict, the fact it stays there for years exascerbates that conflict” says Amy McDonald of Auckland based Parents for Justice. "Yet stopping the conflict often just means one parent shutting up about abuse - thats not good enough for our children".

Shared care is rarely overturned by the family court. The legal argument for not doing so it is that the practise has become the ‘status quo’ irrespective of whether it is working.

Surprisingly, the status quo argument is often oveerlooked by the court when pre divorce, one parent typically takes on 80% of the childs care, and lawyers, not experienced in child psychology, are advocating for it even when a child is preschool and such changes can cause attachment disorders.

“Sadly this is often done to negate their clients child support by increasing contact and entertain their clients own sense of entitlement, at the expense of their childs” says McDonald.

“Yet instead of the family court resolving high conflict situations expediently for children, to remove them from it, what we are seeing with our clients is the family court entertaining the parent who is playing games and giving them centre stage, allowing that parent to perpetuate abuse through the legal process also causing chaos and hardship for the other parent. We have institustionalised abuse and it must stop for the sake of children” says McDonald.

Since July 2005 to 2010, total Family Court expenditure has increased by 63 per cent costing the New Zealand taxpayer $137.1m.

The family court currently hears approximately 65,000 applications a year with Care of Children applications making up 42% of these.



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