How the Family Court has failed children | The Saturday Paper

The Family Court’s emphasis on shared custody has left children vulnerable to abusive fathers, but changes are coming that should put the child’s interests first.

Women repeatedly told me that their history of experiencing domestic violence, even when reported to police, even when it resulted in AVOs, even when there were witnesses, was not just disregarded by the court but caused the women to be regarded with suspicion.

Pip Rae, who worked as a New South Wales police officer for 20 years, dealing primarily with domestic violence, points her finger at systemic issues. Now a private investigator, she says that child protection services and police work at cross-purposes. “Child protection services have three criteria: no risk, significant risk and high risk. Police have innocent or guilty.”

Despite increased social awareness and understanding of the complexities and dangers of family violence, Rae says, the system has deteriorated. “In 2002, due to cost blowouts, the requirement for prosecution shifted from ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ or prima facie to ‘likelihood of getting a conviction’, and this led to sexual assault and DV charges being less likely to get up, because they are more difficult to prove.”

Angela Lynch, advocacy manager for domestic violence service provider Full Stop Australia, agrees. “Since 2006, in response to lobbying by men’s rights groups, the Family Court must start from a presumption of equal, shared parental responsibility. This works fine in most divorces but those that come before the court are the most complex: 80 per cent of matters in the Family Court have a background of family violence and 70 per cent a background of child abuse.”

Like many similar services, Full Stop has made a submission to the federal government in response to proposed new legislation that would reverse changes made to the Family Court in 2006. The proposals are to place the interest of the child at the centre of the court’s responsibilities when it comes to custody and access arrangements. The consultation period ended this week and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has promised to legislate this year.

“The presumption of shared parental responsibility has contributed to a demonisation of mothers, especially if they allege family violence or child abuse,” Lynch says. “They are immediately seen as hostile to the system norm of shared parenting.”

Laura, a lawyer, says she was so traumatised by the violence she experienced at the hands of her ex-partner, which included rape, strangulations and attempts to run her over, she was unable to cope with shared access. She collapsed at handovers and later in the court, where she was accused of “faking”.

Misdiagnosed by a court-appointed expert as suffering from borderline personality disorder – she has since been re-diagnosed with PTSD – she lost custody of her son to the man who had terrorised her.

Laura says many lawyers explicitly warn their clients against alleging family violence or child abuse, even if, as in Laura’s case, their partner was charged by police and convicted.

The consequence of this shared-parenting emphasis in complex Family Court battles has been decades of devastated mothers and children sent back into high-risk situations. Jen’s daughter is an adult now, but no longer has any relationship with either of her parents. As Laura says, “You can leave the violent relationship, but the Family Court won’t let you escape it. Not with your child.”

Source: How the Family Court has failed children | The Saturday Paper

One thought on “How the Family Court has failed children | The Saturday Paper”

  1. I’ve been in court 9 years with a narcissistic psychopath. All fully supported by police and Fanily court.

    It was after the relationship ended and the fog cleared that I realised I had been in a toxic, abusive relationship with a covert narcissist.  Never in my wildest dreams would I believe that things could be so much worse after separation with absolutely no one to turn to and no support agency to help with the trauma of an abusive relationship and now facing the fact that I had to fight for my own children to be in my life.  The barrage of false allegations that I constantly have to defend and it seems like I am the only one constantly having to prove I am a good mum, whilst the evidence of all that the abuser does, is conveniently swept away.  Never would I have believed that those in positions of power to help, such as police, legal aid, victims of crime and the courts would perpetuate the abuse against my family and I also. These people simply don’t care and some of them in fact go out of their way to make the situation far far worse. The gas lighting, the emotional and psychological abuse, including financial abuse and coercive control through the court systems. I am a 43 year old woman who was in a relationship for 8 years. We have two children, a boy now 8 and a daughter aged 12. We have been separated 7 years, nearly as long as the relationship itself and the abuse and coercive control is escalating every year. I felt safer and more able to appease him when we were together as at least I could keep an eye on the children. If I knew what I know now, I may of never left as it would of been better to be beat up now and then, compared to the 7 years of hell my children and I have been through at the hands of that man.  The abuser has more rights than the children and the victims. They have a right to see their children even when harming them. They have a right to not pay child support or support the children, but don’t you dare not let them see his kids or try and protect the children from the abuse. You are then seen as a crazy lady who ‘can’t emotionally regulate’.  The children’s father has not paid child support for his kids, not paid their school fees or provided for them, but instead paid $800,000 to a lawyer to try and destroy me and in turn destroyed his own children’s precious childhood. All they know is fighting, court, police coming to the home and being used as a pawn in a dysfunctional marriage breakdown.  How is it possible to spend $800,000 on lawyers, yet a Judge can not make him support his children. How is it that I am threatened with arrest if I withhold my children for their safety, but if the father simply does not turn up to collect the children, then there is nothing the court can do? How is it, if the father does not actually pay child support, but my Centrelink payments are still reduced, causing even further financial hardship for the children and mother. As Centrelink just deems the money is received, even if it isn’t.   How can we claim to be a civilised nation when police do not charge abusers with abusing their victims. How can a person have a current domestic violence order in place, yet send the victim a death threat that they will kill her and that is not a breach?
    How can an abuser assault the mother in front of their child at a school, with independent witnesses and police don’t even bother to interview the witnesses? This is why we will always have woman and children going murdered in the street in broad daylight as police and the legal system has no interests in serving and protecting woman and children. I have evidence that a police officer lied on an official police statement and ethical standards said ‘he was spoken to’. That’s it. He is free to go and harm other woman with his false statements. There is no accountability for anybodies actions and until there is, one woman a week will continue to be murdered at the hands of their ex-partner.  How can victims assist take 4 years to look at a claim and then re-victimise the woman just as bad as that abuser did?  ‘In relation to an incident on 28 January 2020, while there is evidence you were assaulted and suffered injuries, the assessor concluded that the only or main reason this occurred was because of your involvement in criminal activity (Trespass and Common assault)’. The truth is, the father withheld the children again against court orders. The mother with no help from police, went to collect the children. The father assaulted the mother, resulting her being admitted to hospital. The mother never committed trespass or was charged with any such thing. The father just got away with it as he said he had a right to assault her as he didn’t want her at his house. And the lies just keep getting said until the truth no longer matters.  After 7 years of legal system abuse and coercive control. The father simply abducted the children from the mothers front yard on 4/12/2020 and she has not seen them since. No surprise that without thousands of dollars not one single person is willing to help the mother. It’s all a bit too much to bare for one woman to have to go through.  Coercive control through the legal system is the new DV of the 21st century.

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