Families, Fertility and Maternity Leave - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Families, Fertility and Maternity Leave

Sound family policy is being side-tracked by the concentration on the role of maternity leave in raising the fertility rate. Falling fertility is a genuine cause for concern, but it does not justify the deliberate manipulation of birth rates by government incentives.

According to Barry Maley, author of Family and Marriage in Australia, children prosper when reared by natural parents within a traditional marriage; a wife who takes time off work to engage in child care and varieties of home production, and a husband who provides a steady income to promote their joint welfare.

In contrast, children from homes broken by divorce have at least twice the risk of behavioural, emotional and performance problems as children from intact marriages. As a result, there should be ‘no such thing as single parenthood’.

Current family law prejudices the well being of children and adults, as it constitutes a regime of ‘marriage lite’ characterised by a high divorce rate, marital instability, and disincentives to marriage.

For example, the removal of proven fault as a factor in divorce settlement encourages opportunistic and exploitative behaviour amongst married couples leading to frequent family breake up.

It also discourages women from marriage and adequate child care; according to Maley, mothers and homemakers are made vulnerable to impoverishment and hardship after divorce, and thus investments in domestic activities and the having of children are risky for women.

The trend will inevitably be towards fewer children in an uncertain marital regime, and fewer mothers willing to give up market work to stay home for them. Maley advocates a more restrictive form of marriage for couples with children. In a ‘full strength’ marriage, the law should ensure that parents stay together to raise offspring by making divorce more difficult.

He calls for a re-establishment of the proof of fault for before a divorce can proceed, and ‘clear evidence that the marriage is irretrievably ruined and that the spouses are wholly and irreparably alienated from each other.’

Enhancing the status of marriage by declaring the seriousness of ending it, and enhancing justice in the case of divorce, would diminish family conflict and brake up currently plaguing Australian society, and enhance family prosperity and fairness.

Barry Maley is Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, and former Director of the Centre’s Taking Children Seriously research program, completed in 2001. His most recent book, Family & Marriage in Australia (CIS 2001), was one of three finalists in the Research in Ethics category at the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.