Australian National News

Parents face jail if access is denied

By Cathy Pryor
The Australian

COUNSELLORS and parenting groups have welcomed the tightening of family court legislation that provides a jail sentence of up to one year if a parent continuously refuses their ex-partner access to their children.

The changes under the Family Court Act, announced by federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams, came into effect this week.

Under the previous legislation, judges had access to penalties such as community service orders, placing a parent on a good behaviour bond or, in extreme cases, imposing a jail sentence of up to 12 months.

However, there was no requirement that these penalties be imposed. The new legislation ensures judges must act if breaches are repeated.

Daryl Sturgess, national executive officer of Mends, a counselling service for divorced men in Sydney, said the legislation was a "step in the right direction" and would help appease men's concerns about perceived bias in the Family Court system.

"It would address an issue where a lot of men feel there is a problem in that, traditionally, judges have handed down rulings but in the end didn't feel there was anything they could do to enforce them," he said.

"It would be fair to say that the majority of fathers believe that it is a violation of natural justice.

"They don't, by and large, have a problem that they remain the children's father and they have a responsibility to support them, but the notion that they should just be a wallet and support them without any rights surrounding contact is deeply abhorrent to most of them."

The legislation allows, for the first time, for judges to send one or both parents to a parenting course if access orders are breached. Harsher sanctions can be imposed for repeated breaches.

Lui Rytir, from Canberra, a father of two teenage children who separated from his wife 11 years ago, said he hoped the legislation would make the law fairer.

"It has to be made clear to custodial parents that if they refuse access to other parents, there are consequences," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Williams said the changes were aimed at ensuring both parents took their responsibilities seriously and understood their obligations to their ex-partners.

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