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Evolution or revolution?

Almost live blogging from the 2014 National Family Law Conference.

This week our accredited Family Law specialists Marika McMahon and Sam McGee have headed to Sydney for the national family law conference.

Here's Marika's take on the first day.

As committed Monday night watchers of ABC's Q&A Sam McGee and I were most excited about the opening event of the National family law conference in Sydney — a family law Q&A panel hosted by Tony Jones.

The panel consisted of the Shadow Attorney General (and frequent visitor to Bendigo) Mark Dreyfus QC, investment banker Mark Carnegie, NSW Greens parliament member Mehreen Faruqi, former Family Court Judge Jennifer Boland and the infamous writer and now mens' rights advocate Bettina Arndt — who even managed to plug that one of her services for sale now is "internet dating coaching".

With Tony Jones explaining he was in a blue suit in deference to Family Law Act founder Lionel Murphy, the panel considered questions on family law broadly around the conference theme: evolution or revolution?

I'm a big Mark Dreyfus fan, a brilliant legal mind and eloquent advocate, he did not disappoint with his balanced view to family law and the limitations of what courts can do. His comments were often an interesting contrast to the non-lawyer members of the panel.

Mark Carnegie's impassioned view that the family law system needs massive overhaul to limit damage to children was interesting. If you haven't heard of Mr Carnegie, do a bit of googling — I became obsessed a while ago when I saw an ABC show on the hall he converted into his home on Darlinghurst.

Obviously motivated by his own divorce, Mr Carnegie sees family law chronic underfunding causing great damage to children. His intrigue as to how two people "who had such fun creating the children" can fall out so badly. Mr Carnegie repeated often his view that if divorce was seen as a disease it may get the money it needs "if it was cancer it would get the funding".

Mr Carnegie has funded his own research into family law outcomes and sounds like he is going to do more of this.

Of course, gay marriage was a key topic. It was fascinating to hear Justice Boland's rationale for her keen support. Tony Jones highlighted that he was keen to hear Justice Boland's views as he knew she was a committed Catholic. I can just imagine Justice Boland with her elegant bob and lovely pearls as the Minister for the Eucharist Sunday morning. Justice Boland explained that she can sympathise with people who have different views but that she sees we are all made in the image of God and the time has come for us to make all relationships able to marry.

Bettina Arndt was focused on the issue of parental attachment, a concept that has attracted a lot of research analysis and discussion both inside and outside of the court. Attachment theory considers that a child under about 3 has a primary attachment to one parent. Bettina sees the concept of attachment as meaning that dads are not getting "any" overnight time with "babies and toddlers up until they are about 4".

It was clear that Bettina's views have been formed by listening to "squeaky wheels" who may have been disappointed by the outcome of their family law system.

What was apparent from the reaction of other panel members and the audience of family lawyers is that her statement, "Dads are advised they just won't get any overnight time" is wrong. I think Ms Arndt under appreciates the way in which both family lawyers and family courts don't give blanket decisions/advice but that each case is considered on its own facts and circumstances — it is what is in that child's best interest, not what is in general in children's best interests.

In my experience parental attachment is not meaning dads are not obtaining overnight time, but we do have delicate negotiations and considerations to try and get the balance of time right.

And for all of this Tony Jones took all questions — and none of them as comments!

So there were lots of issues at the kick off of the National Family Law Conference. Of course as a part time foodie I had to hit the Sydney restaurant scene last night and was not disappointed by the meal at celeb chef Colin Fassnidge's Four In Hand. The dessert of sweet potato and goats cheese sorbet was a stand out!

Stay tuned for more news from the National Family Law Conference.