Custody figures skewed to women

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014

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Mothers were given day-to-day care of their children three times more often than fathers in the Hamilton Family Court over recent years.

But Hamilton family lawyers say there is no gender prejudice in the justice system and the numbers don't tell the full story.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice, obtained via the Official Information Act, show mothers have been given day-to-day care of their children 1705 times in the Hamilton Family Court since 2006.

The figure accounted for more than half of all parenting orders over this period and is 3.4 times the number of day-to-day care arrangements awarded to fathers.

While fathers applied for fewer parenting orders, mothers were granted day-to-day care more often.

Overall, mothers were successful in getting "mother only" care 76 per cent of the time.

Fathers were successful in getting "father only" care 35 per cent of the time.

The gap had closed since 2006 when only 20 per cent of fathers who applied were given "father only" daily care. In 2012, fathers had a 56 per cent success rate. Only 10.8 per cent of parenting orders since 2006 were for "mother and father shared" care.

Hamilton family lawyer Tracey Gunn, who has been practising for 22 years, said she did not believe there was a "mother bias" in the family court and each case was treated individually.

While not surprised the figures were skewed towards women, she said judges take a raft of factors into account, including previous care arrangements, parenting skills and availability.

She said women traditionally cared for children at home and men went to work, and children often preferred the status quo.

"Often children's views are they want things to stay the same so that's often predominantly being with mum as the major caregiver. That's what they're used to."

Hamilton family lawyer Reuben Gubb also said he had not encountered gender-based favouritism in the family court.

"If I have a good case for a mum and I have exactly the same case for a dad I am likely to achieve exactly the same result with the judges I face in the family court today."

He said the figures did not take into account the terms attached to each parenting order.

Day-to-day care arrangements awarded to mothers often allowed fathers to have regular contact with their children, he said.

Father & Child Trust support worker Brendon Smith said mothers having a higher success rate than fathers in the family court was not surprising.

He said he worked with fathers every day who felt they were "hard done by" in custody cases.

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"When the applicant is a father, he is probably a very good father," Mr Smith said.

"They're probably a keen dad and may have a few tiny issues in their background but they've worked through them and they're still not getting a fair go."

He was most worried about the low number of "mother and father shared" orders and said it was important for children to spend time with both parents.

"That is a shame. Shared care should be the preferable outcome for all these cases."

- Waikato Times

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