Mums pushing for caesareans in rush for big baby bonuses

baby-bonusFEARS pregnant women may pressure doctors to perform caesareans and inductions early before the baby bonus is slashed to $3000 has prompted a warning to the nation’s obstetricians.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin has written to The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists urging doctors to counsel women on the risks of premature births.

From July 1, 2013, the baby bonus will be slashed from $5000 to $3000 for second and subsequent births in a Budget savings measure.

The correspondence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph offers information to doctors on a range of government payments to help counsel women against scheduling caesareans to get extra cash.

“I am conscious of the pressure that may be placed on obstetricians and other medical staff to reschedule elective procedures in the lead-up to the start date for the reduced rate of baby bonus,” Ms Macklin writes.

 “I know that the government and your members share the concern that the health of mothers and babies remain the paramount consideration in scheduling such procedures.

“I have included a fact sheet about those payments that your members may find useful when counselling mothers about the risks they may face in attempting to qualify for the higher rate of baby bonus.”

With a normal pregnancy lasting about 40 weeks, the baby bonus changes will affect women who conceived second and subsequent children from mid-September to mid-October.

But working women will still have access to the $10,000 paid maternity scheme. Premature C-sections can increase the risk of babies experiencing breathing difficulties according to some experts.

When the baby bonus was increased in the past, economist and author of Parentonomics Joshua Gans found evidence that it did change birthing behaviour with women arranging C-sections to secure extra cash.

“There was strong evidence that it impacted behaviour. And the evidence was all about planned birth timing, that is caesars and inductions, which comprise a significant share of all births,” Mr Gans said.

“In 2004, 2006 and 2008 we were seeing increases in the baby bonus so there was an incentive to delay births until after July 1 of those years.

“But $2000 is $2000 and so I suspect some people … will end up having conversations with their doctors as to whether they can have their babies on June 30 rather than July 1.

“Playing with timing decisions like this is bad implementation of economic policies.

Put the change in slowly (so there is no particular date that is salient) or put it in immediately by surprise (so there is no chance to bring births forward).

“No one knows what the risks of playing with birth timing really are.”

The Very Expensive Price of Divorce

price-of-divorceMaree* hasn’t been to the hairdresser for the past five years. Her “new” clothes come from a friend who handily clears out her wardrobe every year. And when she recently bought her children new school shoes, they were moved to ask when was the last time she had bought shoes for herself.

Since her divorce, Maree’s life has been all about forward planning. Simple things like getting the car serviced, which used to just be done automatically, now have to be budgeted and planned for. Even a $20 school excursion isn’t a simple matter. “I just don’t have a spare $20,” she says. “I’ve always worked with a budget, but there’s no buffer any more.”

The financial impact of divorce can be crushing for both men and women. But recent research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) found divorced women with dependent children find it much harder to recover their income after divorce. And unless they find a new man and re-partner, the financial hit can last well into later life.

“Things haven’t changed in the last three decades,” says Lixia Qu, a senior research fellow at the AIFS. “In the 1980s we found that women after divorce were short financially and they’re still in that space. We’re not saying that men are not worse off [after divorce], but women are more so.”

The assets of those who split up are $180,000 to $190,000 less than non-divorced people and the gap doubles to $360,000 to $390,000 six years after divorce. The annual household income of divorced women fell by an average of $10,000 in the first year after divorce but for men it increased by $7000.

The reasons can be complex. On a very superficial level, it’s basic maths. Two people sharing expenses live much more cheaply than two people living apart.

Emily Chantiri, author of The Savvy Girl’s Money Book, says there’s no getting around the fact that divorce is expensive. Even if you don’t spend a fortune on lawyers, chances are you’ll need to sell the family home, buy something smaller, and probably arrange a new loan. It all costs money.

Qu says that while roles are changing, many woman still play a secondary role in the household finances. Their husband is the main breadwinner, and when they have children it is often the woman who takes time out of her career to look after them. While she will probably ease back into the workforce as the kids get older, she doesn’t have the opportunities to advance her career that her husband might enjoy.

So when divorce comes along, she is already earning less and, if she has primary care of the children, is left with the dilemma of how to shoulder the household finances while still finding time to be a mother.

Financial planner Claire Mackay of Quantum Financial says psychological factors also play a part. “When people are going through a split, they tend to focus on the split and not what to do now. A lot of women come in to see me when everything is all but decided, but the longer you have to prepare, the more likely you are to get into good habits.”

Mackay went through a marriage breakdown herself a few years ago, and says getting back on your feet is something most people have difficulty doing. In every relationship, one partner takes a more dominant role in managing the finances. It might sound sexist, she says, but that’s usually the man. If the woman hasn’t been active in managing the family finances she’s likely to struggle to get on top of them in the aftermath of a divorce, when so much emotion is involved and other changes are vying for attention.

But here’s the rub. Maree was the main breadwinner in her marriage, felt she was on top of her finances, and is still reeling from the financial hit her life has taken post divorce.

Maree was living overseas when she met her ex-husband. Working in office management, she earned more than twice what her husband earned and lived a comfortable life. Marriage was followed by children, then a move back to Australia.

“Three months after the birth of my twins I was sent back to work because I could earn more money and sustain the lifestyle to which he’d become accustomed,” she says. “I was accustomed to it, too.”

But what Maree didn’t realise was that her husband was a spender. And not just a spender; he also had a gambling habit. “We were able to buy our own home and do some upgrades,” she says. “I didn’t realise anything was wrong until one day I said something needed doing and he said there was no money in the account.”

When the couple finally divorced, Maree says she was forced to give her husband half their assets. His lack of contribution to the household finances, the judge said, was offset by the fact that he had been a house husband and cared for the children.

“I thought, ‘Hang on a minute – the children were in childcare or preschool and I still did much of the housework when I came home from work. He wasn’t a house husband at all,’ ” Maree says. “But you can’t really argue with a judge.”

The family home was sold, and the proceeds split, despite the fact that her husband now earns more than she does.

John* recently got divorced from a successful professional woman, and despite the fact that her income tops seven figures, is still struggling to make ends meet. After spending more than $80,000 on lawyers, John says he and his ex still haven’t reached a financial settlement. She has stopped paying maintenance.

As the family home will eventually have to be sold, John says he borrowed money to buy an off-the-plan apartment – much of it on his credit card – assuming his wages could be used to pay down the debt while he and the children lived on his ex’s maintenance.

He earns $80,000 a year in his own right, but says this doesn’t go far when you have teenagers and debt. His ex pays the mortgage, the kids’ schools fees, and gives them money directly, but John says she has the children only one night a week, so he is responsible for a lot of the late-night pick-ups and driving around, even though he works longer hours than he does.

“I’m not crying poor, but it’s still incredibly stressful not knowing where I’ll end up, and the court system is completely arbitrary,” he says. “Emotionally, financially and socially, this has been a complete nightmare.”

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that both men and women typically suffered a fall in income after divorce, although the impact was greater on women. Women’s incomes tended to recover after about six years, as they were able to retrain and increase their working hours, but often higher social-security payments still made up a proportion of their incomes. Women without children tended to recover faster.

Intriguingly, the study found divorced men and women also tended to have fewer assets before they separated than couples who remained together.

“We haven’t fully investigated why that was,” says Qu. “Financial stress may be an indicator of other things not going well, and financial difficulties can also make a relationship difficult and cause a lot of stress. We found that before they separated, there were already signs people were feeling lonely and less happy. [Divorce] is not something that just happens.”

The research found women who remarried fared better than those who remained single. But both men and women who had never divorced had more financial assets in their 50s and 60s than those who had split, suggesting divorce can have a long-term financial impact.

Mackay says women fare particularly badly when it comes to retirement savings. The average women has less than half the superannuation of the average man, with lower wages and time spent out of the workforce limiting her ability to save. The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia recently calculated that taking just two years out of the workforce could create a “super debt” of up to $50,000. It says if women want to make up this debt, they need to adopt the “1 per cent rule” and contribute an extra 1 per cent to super for the rest of their working lives. But for women who divorce and struggle to make ends meet afterwards, that can be a big ask.

While the husband’s super can be split as part of a divorce settlement, women are often understandably more concerned with money they can access now, says Mackay, and are happy to forgo a share of their husband’s retirement savings. Inheritances can also cause problems. It still irks Cathy that her substantial inheritance went into her marital assets, while her ex still stands to get a sizeable inheritance when his parents pass on. She adds that women who have gone through a messy divorce are often much more inclined to look at prenuptial agreements the second time around to make it clear how assets and inheritance should be treated.

She says the key to recovering from divorce financially is to focus on the future, not what has gone wrong in the past. “Regardless of the circumstances, it is an emotional decision to split,” she says. “But it’s then time to look at what’s best for the children, where you are, and where you want to get to.”

*Names have been changed.

Online divorce option grows quickly in popularity, rising 40pc in a year

online-divorceMORE couples are divorcing online as time-poor partners favour a more convenient way to separate.

Lawyers say the online process takes the strain out of an already tense situation and reflects society’s increased use of the internet to do business.

Figures from the Federal Magistrates Court 2011-12 annual report show the number of divorces filed online increased dramatically to 9493 last financial year, up from 6765 the previous year.

The 40 per cent increase in applications was higher than that of traditional Australian divorces which climbed just 2 per cent during the same period from 44,964 applications in 2010-11 to 46,031 last financial year.

Tindall Gask Bentley family lawyer Jane Miller said since eFiling was introduced in 2009, couples were increasingly filing online applications.

“I think we are seeing an increase in eFiled divorces as more applicants look for a convenient means of dealing with the courts,” she said.

eFiling enables divorcing couples to complete, lodge and pay for their divorce online, without attending court within business hours.

“Applicants in rural areas, those too busy to get to the court registry and those people deterred by the formality of a court system are drawn to eFiling, especially as we all become increasingly accustomed to doing business on the internet,” Ms Miller said.

In just one year, the number of couples filing for divorce online nationally rose to 9493 from 6765.

“On the flipside, some commentators worry that the informality of online divorce undermines the commitment of marriage.”

David Burrell & Co family lawyer Jane Fox said eFiling was “in line with the times”.

“We now do many things online, banking, shopping, research etcetera and people are now more accustomed to having such exchanges online in other areas that they feel more comfortable in doing so,” she said.

“However, people who are not internet savvy may struggle to do so unless they get some assistance.”

Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors SA president Krys Noah said the ease of online divorce was unlikely to prompt a higher number of separations.

She said couples would have already decided to split well before lodging an application.

“People make comments that everyone is divorcing, but my reality is that my clients, whether they come singly or as a couple, struggle hugely to make that decision,” she said.

“It would be less upsetting to do it online than actually go inside a court building or wherever else, but it doesn’t diminish the trauma that they have already gone through in terms of coming to that decision.”


Settle for Christmas

SEPARATED families are being urged to consider settling Christmas custody disputes now – two months early – before a deadline shuts down court assistance.

Families have until November 9 to lodge applications for the courts to hear and rule on custody disputes for the holiday period, but lawyers say many families don’t realise that they need to act immediately.

The rise of the young divorcee

broken-marriage-divorceNew Australian Australian Bureau of Statistics show that many young marriages aren’t surviving a four-year term.

When 26-year-old Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson announced she was divorcing her husband of two years, actor Ryan Reynolds, she joined the growing number of under-30s leaving their marriages less than four years into them.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that from 2007 to 2009, the number of people under 30 who divorced after less than four years of marriage increased by almost 12 per cent, from 5394 to 6024.

Relationship experts say younger couples approach divorce differently from those over 30, because they aren’t willing to settle if something isn’t working out. If that means divorce and a new start, so be it.

Psychologist John Aiken, author of Accidentally Single: The 15 Mistakes That Ruin Romance – And How To Avoid Them (Penguin), says: “If they don’t have kids, they are looking at the situation and thinking, ‘This hasn’t worked, but I have enough time to find someone else and maybe have a family with someone else.’

“So they feel that if they get out of something that isn’t working, they can do it better the next time around.

“They’re still at a stage where they can have a family with someone else. They are also still open to change and are more open to electronic dating. They know how to meet people; they aren’t unfamiliar with the dating territory the way older people may be.”

Anne Hollonds, former CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, says: “It is pretty difficult to keep a marriage going, so it is no surprise that people who do it young may find it more difficult than they thought. They may have not considered all the factors before marrying. Difficulties or disagreements may be glossed over in the romantic glow of early courtship.

“No-one is telling you to stay in a marriage anymore. There is no societal pressure to stay there, so you have got to find your own reasons.

“It isn’t therefore surprising that for younger marriages it may be rocky, given the lack of peer support, and given that their friends are having casual sex and having a good time while they’re married.”

In the US, the phenomenon of young people marrying and divorcing within a couple of years, without having children, has been branded “starter marriages”. It was first coined by Pamela Paul in her 2002 book, The Starter Marriage And The Future of Matrimony (Random House).

Clinical psychologist Vera Auerbach, who specialises in relationships, says: “I have seen a lot of young people who were married young, in their late teens or early 20s, but have then developed more as people so as they’ve grown up they have realised, ‘This is not for me.’

“Some have expectations or have idealised how the marriage is going to be. They can go into the relationship in a naive way, because in a long-term relationship there will be real differences.

“The Generation Y cliché is: ‘It’s all me, me, me’, but a relationship is not just about you. If you are in a committed relationship, it requires a lot of skills to go the long term.”

Family Court rules young Indian couple’s forced marriage ‘null and void’

null-and-void-marriageTHE marriage of a young Indian couple has been declared “absolutely null and void” by a court because the groom was forced to wed.

The Family Court has erased the marriage of the couple, known as “Mr Nagri” and “Ms Chapal”, effective immediately.

Justice David Collier said Mr Nagri, 25, married while under duress from his uncle – who had sponsored his immigration.

“I am satisfied that, because of the relationship between Mr Nagri and his uncle, he was the subject of strong feelings of family loyalty,” he said.

“He was subject to religious and cultural beliefs (and) believed that his situation was one where his uncle was entitled to demand his obedience.

“Mr Nagri was not acting of his own free will … his consent to the marriage was not a true full and informed consent.”

Documents filed with the court’s registry in Parramatta, NSW, show Mr Nagri and his mother moved from India to Australia in 2008.

In August 2011, his uncle announced he had found a woman for Mr Nagri to marry.

“Mr Nagri tried to tell his uncle that he did not wish to be married to Ms Chapal, and that he was in love with somebody else,” Justice Collier said.

“His uncle said that the marriage must proceed (because he) had given his word and that arrangements had been made.

“I am satisfied the economic dependence of Mr Nagri upon his uncle (meant he) was not acting of his own free will.”

The couple wed in a November 2011 civil ceremony.

One month later, Mr Nagri told Ms Chapal, 26, that he did  not love her. “He confessed that he had married her under compulsion and out of a sense of duty to his family,” Justice Collier said.

“He was remorseful and apologised unreservedly to her … He said that he had acted badly, and he asked for her forgiveness.

“He made it clear, to his mother particularly, that he had hurt Ms Chapal.”

Justice Collyer said Ms Chapal did not oppose the application, while Mr Nagri’s uncle had apologised.

“It is to his credit that he is now prepared to acknowledge that his behaviour overbore the will of his nephew,” he said.

Regular sex does not mean you’re in a relationship, rules judge

friends-with-benefits-court-judgmentHAVING regular sex with a housemate does not mean you’re in a “relationship” – even if the arrangement lasts more than a decade, a judge has ruled.

Family Court Judge Jane Crisford entered into the “friends with benefits” debate when she ruled that a man and woman who had regular sex as friends over a 14-year period were not in a de facto relationship.

Judge Crisford said it did not matter that the pair had been living in the same house, socialised on occasions and initially took short holidays together because they essentially lived separate lives.

“He continued to associate with her as it was a convenient and uncomplicated arrangement,” she said.

“On one level they were companions and could co-exist amicably – in common parlance, they were friends with benefits.

“(He) was simply biding his time. For a reduced rent he had some domestic tasks performed for him. He had a companion when it suited him and he had sex when the need arose.”

The court was asked to define the relationship as part of a property dispute between the housemates, who cannot be identified and are referred to as “Mikhail Markhov and Kanya Shelley” by the judge.

In total, Dr Markhov had 10 properties while Ms Shelley owned five. This included a property they bought together in 2006.

The application was lodged in the Family Court a few months before Dr Markhov married another woman in 2009.

Ms Shelley, a registered nurse, moved into Dr Markhov’s unit as his tenant in 1995, a few years after they met.

A few months later she then bought her own unit in the same complex and Dr Markhov, a scientist, then moved into that unit with her as a tenant while his home was being renovated.

Over the years the pair bought other properties and resided in them together as landlord and tenant. Ms Shelley claimed over that time the pair were in a “committed and marriage-like” relationship and slept together “every night”.

Dr Markhov at first claimed the relationship was platonic, but later admitted having sex with Ms Shelley in most of the houses, justifying his actions by saying he had “needs”.

In handing down her decision, Judge Crisford said while she found some of Dr Markhov’s attitudes “dishonourable”, she was not satisfied there was a marriage-like relationship. He never intended to have a long-term relationship with her, she said.

Judge Crisford said Ms Shelley benefited from the arrangement in much the same way and disputed her claims of an exclusive, marriage-like relationship.

Abducted kids can’t forget torment

johanna-fisher-child-abductionAT six years old, Johanna Fisher thought moving to Europe with mum would be a big adventure; she was promised a big house, a yard and all the toys she wanted.

She was too young to understand that her mother was smuggling Johanna out of the country to hide from her father. Brian Fisher spent the next six months searching for his little girl, and eventually tracked the pair down to a shabby studio apartment in Switzerland.

Now 21, Johanna said the experience has left deep, long-term emotional scars.

“My relationship with both of my parents had been permanently damaged, and I found it extremely difficult to trust people,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.

Every year, about 200 Australian children are illegally smuggled overseas by a parent. Roughly half are taken to countries that have signed the Hague Convention, which stipulates the children should be returned.

Estimates suggest just as many are taken to countries that are not signatories. Most abductions are kept secret by courts to protect the children but some are publicised, such as the recent case of a mother who smuggled her four daughters from Italy to Australia, only to have the girls sent kicking and screaming back to their father by the Australian courts.

Every time Johanna hears of a parental abduction in the news, she wishes the warring adults would think of the long-term damage their conflict will cause their children. “It’s completely unfair for a child to be drawn into such difficult familial disputes,” she says.

Johanna speaks from experience. Her mother had long described her father as “nasty” and said they were better off without him.

When Swiss courts sent her home with him, after months in state care, Johanna was deeply confused and didn’t understand why she was left with someone supposedly so horrible.

She soon realised her father, Brian, wasn’t as her mother claimed, but re-establishing a relationship with him was still difficult.

“As a child I had a very negative view of him, and I think that caused a lot of problems in our relationship,” Johanna said. “He made an effort to reconnect with me, but I think I was always very hesitant to let him do so.

“I think I came across as quite a problematic child, and I expressed my confusion by playing up at school.”

As an adolescent, her confusion turned into depression, which she blames on her childhood instability. Contact with her mother, who lived overseas, was sporadic, and while Brian tried his best, he struggled to be both father and mother to Johanna. They would often argue.

Trust issues and confusion are typical of the problems faced by children who have been abducted, says Antony Milch, a child psychiatrist.

While each child is different, consequences of abduction can be lasting, he says. The trauma of living as a fugitive can affect their sense of identity, their stability and their ability to form relationships.

“That ends up being very challenging,” says Dr Milch.

In another case, a father whose son was abducted when he was just a toddler and hidden in Europe for more than two years told The Sunday Telegraph his son’s years as a fugitive have deeply affected him.

The little boy struggles to relate to other children, has behavioural problems and is distrustful of authority.

Yet this father can take comfort from Johanna’s story.

She may have struggled, but she is now a high-achieving law student, described by her father, Brian, as “a very stable, sensible young woman”.

Johanna said her experience hasn’t been all bad.

“I became extremely resilient to dealing with negative situations. And I was determined not to let my experiences have a negative bearing on my life”she told The Sunday Telegraph.

Custody win for sperm donor father

sperm-donor-family-law-judgmentA SPERM donor who secretly fathered two girls in two Australian states four years apart will raise his eldest daughter and have sole rights to decide where she goes to school after winning a bitter custody dispute.

The 47-year-old father’s identity is protected under the Family Law Act, but a recent Federal Magistrates Court judgment has revealed he is involved in “touring” and travels overseas to attend to “business and property dealings”.

The mother of the girl, now seven, was described in the judgments as having “ongoing palpable fury” towards the father after he kept secret from her the fact he had fathered a second daughter.

According to the judgment, she has since branded him a “slimy liar” after he broke the news to her over the phone in front of their daughter who was visiting him while the mother of the half-sister was visiting him with their baby.

Since the discovery, the two women have become friends and the half-sisters now socialise together, with the eldest girl spending part of her school holidays at her half-sister’s house.

Her mother, 41, has since had two more children to two separate fathers. She acknowledged “all the positive elements” the father had brought to their daughter’s life, including “her musical and academic advancement and his generosity”.

But she was accused of “conducting a tirade” against him for most of the four-year legal dispute which started in 2008 when she relocated with their daughter while a restraining order to stop her was pending.

At the time of the move, she had just had a baby with her then partner and gave legal “consent” for the girl to live “primarily” with her father because he had complained of getting a “sore back” from a four-hour drive to see her.

But she challenged the legal agreement in 2010 once he broke the news of the half-sister interstate.

Magistrate Norah Hartnett said: “At the time (the secret half-sister) was 14 months of age. The mother was enraged by the call and her level of ongoing abuse of the father, in particular via email … was heightened. … She continued her denigration of the father to as wide an audience as possible.”

Although they have never been in a relationship, the couple had entered into a “child support agreement” to last 16 years after the birth.

National laws needed for Living Wills

living-willSome leading doctors and ethicists are calling for uniform national laws to guarantee a dying person’s wishes, as expressed in a living will, are respected by doctors and hospitals. 

They say new medical technology is sometimes prolonging life unnecessarily.

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Some leading doctors and ethicists are calling for uniform national laws to guarantee a dying person’s right to what they call “a good death”. They say new medical technology is sometimes prolonging life unnecessarily and causing distress to dying people’s families, even when the families want treatment withdrawn. They’re also calling for reforms to ensure that living wills or so-called “advance care directives” are respected by doctors and hospitals.

Well shortly we’ll talk to a senior intensive care specialist and ethicist about how legal uncertainties are affecting doctors, patients and their families. First this special report from Suzie Smith.

SUZANNE SMITH, REPORTER: Across Australia in any one year, doctors and hospitals face more than 40,000 requests for treatment to be withdrawn. And now an issue regarding a pacemaker has revealed the complexity of the issue.

Pacemakers like this one are implanted in your body, but controlled externally by a doctor, who receives information via a radio signal hooked up to a computer.

Pacemakers can be deactivated by a doctor in the office using a computer

But what happens when a person who needs this pacemaker for every heartbeat is dying from another ailment? What if that person is unconscious? In the last 48 hours of life? Can that person’s family be assured that it can be turned off in a timely fashion so the distress ends?

This is exactly what happened in Newcastle, north of Sydney.

JAMES LEITCH, SENIOR CARDIOLOGIST: And this patient had a stroke and became unconscious and was expected to die within three to five days. And during the period when the patient unconscious, the relatives were very distressed by this and they felt that the patient was distressed as well, and they requested that the patients pacemaker be turned off, and that would normally result in the patient dying virtually instantaneously. The doctors requested the technician to come and deactivate the pacemaker, but the technician felt it was unethical to do so. And subsequently after a lot of discussion with the relatives and doctor’s attendants, the doctor de-activated the pacemaker and the patient died.

SUZANNE SMITH: Senior cardiologist Dr James Leitch says there are not clear guidelines about deactivating pacemakers where patients are dependent on the device.

JAMES LEITCH: Every time a patient with a pacemaker has a terminal illness, we have to go through this discussion. It’s difficult for the relatives, difficult for the patient if they’re conscious.

SUZANNE SMITH: And in NSW there is legal uncertainty about whether families have the right to ask for the pacemaker or any other life-saving medical equipment to be turned off when death is imminent.

Dr Peter Saul is a senior intensive care specialist and ethics consultant for the Newcastle district.

PETER SAUL, SENIOR ICU SPECIALIST AND ETHICS CONSULTANT: The legislation in all the neighbouring states allows for a best interests judgement to be made by the family, but not in NSW where it doesn’t appear as part of our legislation.

SUZANNE SMITH: And is that creating confusion for doctors and hospitals, do you think?

PETER SAUL: Yes, in fact when we tried to write guidelines about end-of-life care in NSW, they were held up for a year and a half while lawyers tried to work out what the law did say in this state. And I don’t think at this point there is any agreement in the various legal academics or the legal branch in NSW Health about what the law really says.

SUZANNE SMITH: Dr Saul says the existing law, written in 1987, has not kept up with advances in medical technology.

PETER SAUL: Now we’re implanting more and more of these devices that you’ve heard about; not just defibrillators and pacemakers, but assist devices for hearts and stuff like that, and now those people are ageing and starting to reach a point where they’re going to die, and the law or ethics or guidelines about how these things are now to be turned off, if that’s what we decide to do, are very unclear, especially when the patient themselves can’t make that demand and you’re asking for somebody else to demand it on their behalf.

SUZANNE SMITH: There is also confusion that even if someone has an advanced care directive or a so-called living will and it that stipulates that the family can turn off the pacemaker, that that document may not be legally binding in NSW.

JOHN KAYE, NSW GREENS MLC: In NSW, every time somebody writes an advanced care directive or ends up in hospital, they have to second guess what the courts would do. Rather than having a piece of black letter law written down in the legislation what their rights are and how this should operate, they have to second guess what the Supreme Court will do next.

SUZANNE SMITH: Greens Upper House MP John Kaye says a parliamentary inquiry two years ago recommended possible law reform, but the then Labor government did not agree.

JOHN KAYE: In that massive moral panic that surrounds anything to do with end-of-life, the religious right in NSW has created a massive confusion between the right to prescribe what kind of treatment you want once you’ve lost the capacity to do so and the issues of euthanasia. We want the O’Farrell Government to overcome the sectional interests and recognise that the vast majority of people in NSW would at least want a Law Reform Commission examination of the issue of: how do we protect advance care directives?

SUZANNE SMITH: The NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith disagrees:

GREG SMITH, NSW ATTORNEY-GENERAL (male voiceover): “There is no need for further legislation in relation to these issues. … This is a dynamic area and therefore best dealt with by the common law.”

SUZANNE SMITH: But in Tasmania they are forging ahead with an innovative state plan for advanced care directives.

The debate about living wills or advanced directives has been going on here in Tasmania for some time. An experiment is underway called the Living Well and Dying Well Project where people have much more say in how they want to die.

97-year-old Margaret Astell has written a living will which is registered at her nursing home and all her doctors know about it.

MARGARET ASTELL, NURSING HOME RESIDENT: It’s much easier for a family to know what you would like and what you want and for you to go and they’ve got no idea and then they can’t be disagreements over it because it’s what mum wanted and there it is, it’s in black and white that this is what she wants so this is what she has.

SUZANNE SMITH: It is part of the new e-health system being developed across Northern Tasmania. It’s an electronic record of what people want at the end of their lives. The system aims to prevent unwanted medical intervention and 400 people in nursing homes are taking part across north-western Tasmania.

MARGARET ASTELL: I just want everything to be nice and nobody to be really upset about it because I’ve had a very good innings.

SUZANNE SMITH: The Australian Council of Health Ministers is looking at turning the Tasmanian model into a national blueprint.

JAMES LEITCH: Well I think it’s a very important discussion to have with the patients when you implant the device, to talk to them about how this device is going to function at end-of-life and their wishes under those circumstances. So certainly these decisions are far easier if we have a clear directive from the patient.

SUZANNE SMITH: Suzanne Smith, Lateline.

TONY JONES: Well the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith declined Lateline’s offer of an interview, but his full written statement will be on our website shortly.

Divorce Model Reveals The Costs of Divorce Settlement Delay

divorce-by-economic-formulaDivorce proceedings can be financially devastating for the parties involved but a new financial-advice modelling tool claims it is possible to cut months off the length of a typical settlement process.

More than 50,000 Australians were divorced in 2010, representing some 42 per cent of the 120,000 who married that year.

This statistic led financial planning firm, ipac, to work with lawyers in the creation of the ipac Life Choices Modelling Tool, which was launched at the 15th National Family Law Conference in Hobart earlier this week.

The marriage counsel

The service is designed to make reaching a financial settlement a more timely, less stressful and less financially disruptive process.

This and other issues surrounding the financial implications of divorce were raised at a panel event at the conference.

Moderated by financial commentator and chairman of the federal government’s Financial Literacy Board, Paul Clitheroe, the panel included family law expert, Geoff Sinclair, chair of the Law Council’s Family Law Section; Jane Campbell, law sector manager at ipac; and Helen Darke, a mother of three presently going through a divorce.

“With the help of better financial advice and modelling, the emotional and financial tribulations faced by the more than 50,000 Australians getting divorced annually can be mitigated significantly,” said Clitheroe.

Stating the case

According to ipac, the delivery of an accurate financial statement is one of the issues creating a financial settlement logjam.

“One of the first steps in the financial settlement process involves the couple gathering all their financial information together into a document called a financial statement, which as the name suggests, is a document outlining a couple’s net worth. It is an essential element of finalising the financial settlement,” said Campbell.

“The financial statement is a legal requirement and therefore must be accurate, as it forms the basis of negotiations and the eventual financial agreement.”

While a financial statement can be as straightforward as listing bank accounts, credit cards, the value of superannuation funds and a mortgage, for some it is a more complicated and time consuming process, which can contribute to a divorce settlement dragging on for many years.

“We understand that from the lawyers’ perspective, that the delivery of an accurate financial statement is one of the issues creating a financial settlement logjam – and this delay doesn’t earn them any additional fees, because it’s just periods of dead time as couples work through the process, which can take many months and even years,” said Campbell.

The costs of delay and doing nothing

Helen Darke, who is in her fourth year of divorce proceedings, recently sat down with an ipac adviser, underwent a trial version of the Life Choices Modelling Tool, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

“I looked at the scenario of buying a home and doing some investing based on an estimated settlement amount, and the Life Choices Modelling Tool showed me the potential size of my nest egg in 20 years time using a number of different strategies,” said Darke.

“However, the problem is, that until I can arrive at the financial settlement, my money is sitting in a cash account earning little more than inflation, rather than being invested in something for the future.

“I’m now renting, and paying tax on the interest on the money held in my lawyer’s trust account, which means that my money is marking time and I’m marking time, too.

“For me, this financial planning exercise separated the rational facts from the emotional issue of who gets what, and also revealed the costs of delaying and of doing nothing.”