|Squabbles over the remote control or whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher are the bedrock of daily family life. But mothers and fathers who insult each other in front of their children may now find themselves on the wrong side of the law.|
Australian courts have begun ordering parents to refrain from making offensive remarks, claiming that constant carping between couples can damage young minds.
The orders relate not only to expletive-laden abuse, but to any remark that might be used by one parent to turn a child against the other. The type of comments that have attracted judges' opprobrium include many seemingly innocuous ones, such as references to "Your silly mother", or asking "Has your father got a job yet?".
advertisementThe new judicial approach came to light after a ruling by a federal magistrate, which was later backed by the Australian family court, in which an estranged couple in dispute over custody arrangements were told to stop backbiting in front of their three-year-old daughter.
The mother breached the order by insulting her former boyfriend during a telephone conversation in the child's earshot. That breach, with other contraventions, was used against her, leading to the father being awarded primary custody of the girl.
The case is not an isolated one, according to Dianne Gibson, the director of child dispute services at the Family Court, who said that judges were increasingly moving to govern private behaviour where children were affected.
She acknowledged there might be alarm over judicial intervention into the private sphere, particularly among households where domestic disharmony is commonplace. But she added: "They may say it's just playful banter, but it's not banter from the point of view of children.
Derogatory comments really do have a harmful impact."
I can see in divorce cases where it is clear one parent is doing something to make the child turn, but this seems to be something even worse in terms of the government butting in where it doesn't belong.