What's in a name?

Ashleigh John recently wrote about one of the recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission's review into family law that suggested that the Family Law Act (section 60CC) should be 'slimmed down'.

Today I am looking at another recommendation from the Commission: that the use of the term "equal shared parental responsibility" should be replaced by the term "joint decision-making about major long-term issues".

One of the terms of reference for the Commission was to consider making the Family Law Act more 'user friendly'. And this recommendation sits squarely in that focus.

Studies have shown that the concept of "equal shared parental responsibility" is misunderstood by the public – and leads to a misconception that there is a presumption of 'equal shared time' with the children. It is certainly an issue that we find ourselves having to explain regularly.

Given that 'parental responsibility' is principally about making decisions for the benefit of the children – requiring joint decision making about major long term issues (such as schooling or certain medical concerns) – it seems sensible to change the language to better reflect that.

There is one slight catch; at the moment the focus of the Family Law Act is on "the child's best interests" and 'parental responsibility' decisions are tied to that notion – so it remains to be seen whether any change in language here will be understood to still encompass the concept that the decision making needs to be in the child's best interest.