Caroline Overington | October 20, 2009
IF you are a separated parent, and your children are living in a shared-care arrangement with your former spouse, who should pay for their school uniforms?
Who should pay for the travel between the two homes?
Who should pay for the annual beach holiday? Is it only the person who goes with the children or should the cost be split between both parents, if that's the only holiday the children will have?
These are some of the questions from a federal government survey of separated parents in shared parenting agreements.
The study, Survey of Shared Care Arrangements for Children after Divorce or Separation, is designed to ascertain exactly how shared parenting is working by quizzing those parents who have entered into such agreements, either willingly, or by order of the Family Court.
The survey seeks to discover how well the arrangements work for parents and children.
The study is funded by the Attorney-General's Department, but the research is being conducted independently of government by researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of NSW and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
The Howard government passed shared-care legislation late in 2006. It requires the Family Court to presume that the best interests of children are met by having a relationship with both parents after separation, unless there is violence.
The shared-parenting laws have made it more difficult for parents to relocate after separation. They have come in for harsh criticism from Family Court lawyers, and by others at the coalface of family law.
Six separate reviews of the law are under way, with change expected by the end of the year.
In order to recruit separated parents to the survey, researchers have contacted divorce lawyers, seeking clients who may be willing to take part.
"We'd like to ask you some questions about what arrangements you have and how well they work for you and the children," the survey says.
"The research will help the Attorney-General's Department in deciding whether any changes need to be made in the law."
The survey starts by asking the basics: age, gender, and how long have you been separated from your ex-partner?
It asks separated parents to explain how they came to the current arrangements with their children. Did they reach an agreement on shared care with the help of lawyer or did a judge or magistrate set out the terms?
It asks whether shared parenting is what they wanted and, if not, what arrangement they would have preferred, including "child live with me all the time".
Researchers also want to know how much of a say the children had in the arrangements now in place, and the survey asks whether the arrangement has held, or failed, and why.
Parents are asked whether they believe the other parent is bearing their fair share of the costs, and how often they disagree with their ex-partner about basic child-rearing issues.
"Can you talk to your former partner about child-related issues?" it asks.