17 Aug “The Family Law System Discriminates Against Fathers”
These are the words of Mick Clarke, whose son was killed by his own mother.
Mick Clarke’s seven-year-old son, Jacob Clarke, was murdered by his mother Tanyia Hewson on the 5th of June 2017. Jacob was under her care at the time. Jacob and his mum were found dead in their Beach Home in South Australia. The bodies were discovered by Mick Sutton- Jacob’s stepfather. Mr Clarke claims the tragic murder-suicide is due to the court system’s discriminatory attitude towards fathers. He is advocating for an overhaul of the Family Law court system.
The bodies were discovered by Jacob’s stepfather. Mr Clarke claims the tragic murder-suicide is due to the court system’s discriminatory attitude towards fathers and is advocating for an overhaul of the Family Law court system.
Mick and Tanyia had been battling a bitter custody dispute over Jacob for 18 months. The dispute ended 2 months prior to the murder-suicide, as Mr Clarke could not afford to continue the legal battle. During the 18 months, Mr Clarke asserts he had repeatedly explained to the Federal Circuit Court via his lawyer that his ex-partner, Tanyia, was mentally unwell and Jacob was not safe with her.
However, he insists ‘the judge didn’t want to hear anything about it’ and his concerns were ‘completely disregarded’. During that 18 months, Jacob remained in the care of his mother Tanyia.
Mick says the judge was ‘too one-sided’. He says that if his concerns had been listened to, Jacob would ‘definitely’ still be alive today.
Mick claims fathers ‘out there’ have ‘brought up pure…and provable information (but) the judges don’t want to listen to it’ and in doing so, the family court system is endangering the lives of children.
The grieving father claims he sought aid from ‘Families South Australia’ but was told ‘we don’t have the manpower’.
In support of Mr Clarke is the advocacy group Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, which seeks social justice reforms in government and the Family Courts in relation to the important role fathers play in families and the Australian society.
Leith Erikson, the group’s spokesperson, sympathises with Mr Clarke’s declaration. He says that ‘the laws need to be changed’ in order to create a fairer system. Mr Erikson further contends that these views are shared by many fathers across Australia, in that they view the Family Court System focusing ‘only…(on) issues affecting women’ and ‘ignoring the obvious when a man presents it’.
Does the Australia’s Family Law System favour women?
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) does not contain any bias in relation to gender when it comes to making parenting decisions. The law requires the court to prioritise ‘the need to protect the rights of children and to promote their welfare’.
There are a number of Australians who disagree with these claims. They argue that the ‘real-life’ application of the Family Law Act is exclusive to the perspective of women.
Aftermath of the Incident and Future Reforms for the Family Law System?
Following the incident, the child protection department stated the family in question was known to them but that in the past two years, no alarm bells have been sounded. However, it is notable that police had been sent to the Tiddy Widdy Beach property a number of times for welfare checks on the family. These statements will form part of the police report for the Coroner.
In regard to an overhaul of the Family Law System, it seems as though reform may be on the horizon. In May 2017, as part of the 2017-2018 Budget, Attorney-General George Brandis announced the Australian Government would fund the first comprehensive review of the Family Law System since the introduction of the Family Law Act 41 years ago in 1976. The Review will be conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the findings will be reported by the end of 2018.
Furthermore, the Federal Government also announced $80 million would go towards frontline family law and family violence services. Specifically, $12.7 million of the $80 million is to create Parenting Management Hearings. These are designed to simplify family law disputes between self-represented litigants. Additionally, $10.7 million has been pledged for extra family consultants to deal with family law cases.
It is possible that with the proposed review and amendments, the Family Law System will see great change over the next few years. In doing so, hopefully, the lives of the vulnerable will be afforded greater protection by the law