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  • Dads who care and share are small minority
  • By Farah Farouque, Adele Horin
  • The Age
  • 01/12/2003 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 75 articles in 2003 )
The biggest obstacle to fathers' involvement with their children after divorce is their lack of involvement during marriage, according to one of the nation's leading social policy think tanks.

The report, released today by the Australia Institute, says fathers are highly involved in the day-to-day care of their children in only 5 to 10 per cent of Australian families, and share the physical care of their children in only 1 or 2 per cent of families.

The report's author, sociologist Michael Flood, said the recent spotlight on men's rights had spawned a new culture of "mother-blaming". In the 1950s, mothers were "blamed" for producing gay sons, and nowadays they were held liable for boys' emasculation.

Dr Flood warned that a "significant opportunity" for fathers to develop stronger and more intimate bonds with their children was in danger of being lost.

He blamed "unhelpful agendas" of some men's rights groups and "economic and cultural obstacles to paternal involvement in child-rearing".

The paper also raises questions about the recent push to enshrine a presumption of joint custody in Family Court cases.

Dr Flood said the 5 per cent of custody cases actually determined by the Family Court involved "the most intractable and bitter" conflicts.

"(These parents) are the least likely to be in a position to share residence and parenting of their children," he said.

Dr Flood, who conducted a detailed review of Australian and overseas studies undertaken since the late 1980s into fathering, concludes "neither fatherlessness nor divorce by themselves determine children's wellbeing".

Instead, he suggested the picture was more complex.

"The quality of parenting and the nature of parents' relationships with each other and their children are the critical factors in shaping the impact of father absence on children."

Government policies that encourage fathers to be breadwinners and mothers to be homemakers have limited the role men play in their children's lives, the report said.

Such policies - as well as a work culture that encourages the same split of men's and women's roles, long hours and inflexibility, society's culture of materialism, men and women failing to co-operate, limited fathers' involvement - made them ill-equipped to share the care of children after separation.

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