Sunday, November 28, 2010

10 Reasons The Family Court is Not Just About Conflict

1. Family Violence is often referred as "High Conflict", "Entrenched Conflict" to mask the severity of the situation.
Mentioned in the latest report on Family Violence in Family Courts, high conflict has often been a tool to diminish support for victims within the media and inside the courts andwritten judgments.
For Instance, a judge referred to death threats, property damage and stalking towards the mother as, "High Conflict":
In assessing the probative value I have considered my finding that the father had slashed the tyre of Mr U’s car in the company of another person. Around the same time and in the circumstances of high conflict (the father attending at the mother’s place of work and the father threatening the mother at an intersection including the clear threat of cutting her throat) indicates that there is a tendency or coincidence such that the slashing of the tyres, scratching of the car and putting nails into the tyres of the mother’s car are so similar as to believe that some, if not all, of those events are related to the father’s ongoing stalking and terrorising the mother. I make this finding ignoring my subsequent findings in relation to the words asserted by Mr J in January 2009.

2. Family Violence is the core business of the Family Court
Originally a popular statement amongst legal professionals as a tool to brush off concerns as just allegations, has become the new spotlight on an old phrase. It use to be used to view all concerns as just court tactics in obtaining custody of children. Now, it is often used to highlight how courts have been profiting from extending the horror for victims of family violence. Originally re interpreted by an anonymous group of women writers, it has become a major point for reform.

3. Gender equality has not been reached within the international community, thus all conflicts are not born equal.
Whilst the advancement of women in public and political life has improved over time, most laws are developed within a male dominated setting. In theShared Parenting responsibility statistics, the family court decided that 31% of mothers were mentally ill and only 3% of fathers were mentally ill and not fit to see the children. Whereas, in the general population on statistics around that time, 22% of females and 20% of males were mentally ill. What a lot of people fail to note is that the family court is a slice of the general population and thus should provide results consistent to general population data. This is because, there is bias in diagnosis by court selected psychologists and psychiatrists. Parent Alienation, is a fictitious syndrome that has been used in court rooms in the US for many years and traveled to Australia in the 1980's. This syndrome is often used to divert the spotlight from the alleged perpetrator to the protective parent and diminish their concerns to something spiraling from mental illness. Once established in a Family Court report, its often very difficult to debunk because of its popularity amongst the pseudo - psy- legal community.

4. There is no separation of church and state in Family Law matters.
Family types that clash with religious groups in Australia are often single mothers, same sex couples and new age religious based families. The Family Council identified these groups as "opposing" groups when conducting a think-tank on lobbying for shared parenting. Their values, naturally excluded consideration of young people, women, same sex couples and even basic human rights. The motivation behind the laws were to reverse the right for women to; work, to abort, to leave domestic violence, to shield the children from abuse. Whilst the site is a radical example and one would assume no person with a rational mind would support this organisation, many of these values were reflected within laws surrounding their targets. This organisation whilst small, is still funded and active.

5. You cannot negotiate with a psycho.
Could you ever imagine a scenario where mediation would work with Ted Bundy and his only surviving victim? Or perhaps mediation between Ivan Milat and Paul Onions? There is a good reason why there is no mediation between them: You cannot negotiate with a psycho. The very thought of that is some kind of sick joke, yet at resolution dispute centers, they do this everyday.
In fact, Relationships Australia boasts that their mediators are specially trained in negotiating with psychos.
The victim of course has only two choices:
  1. Negotiate with a psycho
  2. Relive the whole experience under scrutiny in the Family Court.
This is why so many family violence cases ended in consent orders. Consent orders were such a wonderful blanket when the victim was murdered, that spokespeople had the opportunity to explain away that no-one is responsible except for the victim who "consented".

6. Family Court cases are in secret
Anyone who wants to take their case to the media, even when the only surviving child has died, must get the courts permission. Controversially, the most common excuse for the secrecy is to protect the children's names. The secrecy law however, does not reflect that and the practices are more consistent to "the best interests of the court".

This prevents public accountability and understanding of some of the issues that affect victims that go through the family court.

7. False allegations of Child Abuse are rare.
Even children know that child abuse is a serious matter and telling the truth about these things is really important. Despite this, on a community attitudes survey, it was found that half of the community believed that women make up stories of rape, violence and child abuse to gain custody of children. In one of the largest family court samples, findings not only debunked the myth that false allegations dominated family court proceedings, but also the myth that mothers were the main culprits. As little as 12%, were false allegations and most of them were fathers.

8. Its a human rights issue too.
Try to contact Amnesty International and they will tell you that they do not deal with family court cases. Try to contact the Australian Human Rights Commission and they will tell you that its out of jurisdiction. That does not mean its not a human rights issue. Many aspects of family court cases apply to human rights. In rare cases, the Australian Human Rights Commission have intervened, but not as often as they should. This is because the human rights violations are ambiguous in the family law realm. There are too many violations to list them all here, but one can peruse the declaration here. Below is the UN's report on Australia in the context of womens human rights:

9. Sometimes its a matter of life or death
Some victims thought they could survive by avoiding his anger and complying with the orders. Unfortunately, its deeper than that. Homicides relating to family violence is usually because the perpetrator sees the children and their mother as chattel rather than human beings. Just like an angry mechanic might damage a car for not doing what he wants, the perpetrator will find ways to punish them or adopt the, "If I can't have them, no-one will" attitude".

In a way, Family Violence is a silent genocide especially in the context that courts entrap victims from being able to escape the perpetrator and seek proper safety. They are forced to endure the trauma and some even learn that it was safer for the children to return to the relationship, because at least she could be there for them.

Without Family Courts forcing victims to remain in the residence that the perpetrator is aware of and bring the children to him unsupervised, I have no doubt that statistics in general for the years to come would be dramatically reduced. I have no doubt that the death rate would also be reduced significantly. There are so many murders relating to the family court, some reported and others where families endure the loss alone, unacknowledged for the severe violation that the courts orders caused.

10. Its about the children
As much as laws regarding children have been manipulated to serve the agendas of the courts revenue, the agenda of MRAs and the agenda of churches, it is still clearly reflecting the needs of children with the urgency that these situations outside of these courts warrant. Clearly, a man who beats a child's mother does not earn the title "father" in any way, shape or form. Some self proclaimed "experts" believe that they have the ability to play Russian roulette with children's lives by anticipating with little empirical foundation that somehow the father would not be violent to the child too. I have far more respect for the expert that honestly states, "I don't know" when they reach an area that is out of their league, than the one who is desperately career driven that they will make statements to please at all costs. These costs right now are lives and time is ticking away.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"More to be done" says Proffessor Elspeth McInnes

Nothing can be further from the truth, when Dr Elspeth McInnes writes her opinion on the experience of children and women enduring the family courts in Australia.

Dr Elspeth McInnes has been speaking about this long before many. Her patience and endurance over the years to continue to speak out against these atrocities needs to be commended.

It is sad that so many have ignored hers and others plights over the years and continue to see what they have wanted to see, instead of what is.

Safety first in family law is long overdue

By Elspeth McInnes - posted Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news that a man had thrown his four year old daughter , Darcey Freeman, off Westgate Bridge in Melbourne on January 30 2009? It was a shocking event which brought to a close a protracted custody dispute between the separated parents.

A week or two ago I attended a Family Relationships Services conference in Melbourne and had a chat with a Family Relationships Centre worker who commented that the death of Darcey Freeman in January 2009 had really shaken people up because "there was nothing to indicate it would happen".

I responded that the mother and her parents complained they had repeatedly raised concerns about violence before the killing but no-one in the system had taken notice. The worker gently shook her head at me "Nearly all the mothers complain about violence and abuse and we normally discount them. This case was no different."


This brief conversation again highlighted the difficulties which face mothers and children leaving violent and abusive men. Many are advised by state child protection workers that they will have their children taken into care if they stay living in a domestically violent relationship. Once they leave, the current family law system normally ensures that the children will have time in the care of the violent or abusive parent. The task of Family Relationship Centre workers and legal system professionals has been to get mothers to co-operate in handing their children into the care of abusive parents.

In our research into family violence and family law (Bagshaw, Brown, Wendt, Campbell, McInnes, Tinning, Batagol, Tyson, Baker and Fernandez-Arias 2010) many mothers reported they were advised not to raise allegations of violence in case they are seen as an "unfriendly" parent who would not foster a relationship between the child and the other parent. Mothers also reported being required to mediate with the other parent despite disclosing violence.

Mothers who refuse to comply with court orders are required to attend education programmes to make them comply, or face imprisonment and loss of care of the children. A small number of mothers with abusive ex-partners are imprisoned, some flee the country with their children and go into hiding, but most witness their children's injuries, hear their children's disclosures of abuse and hand their children over for more abuse by order of the court.

The Federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland has announced planned changes to Australia's Family Law Act to better support children's safety in family law. The key proposed changes include

  • prioritising the safety of children ahead of a relationship with both parents;
  • widening the definition of "family violence" and "abuse" to include a wider range of harmful conduct
  • increasing the obligations of lawyers, family dispute resolution practitioners, family consultants and family counsellors to support children's safety in making parenting arrangements;
  • improving courts' access to evidence of family violence and abuse; and
  • making it easier for state and territory child protection authorities to participate in family law proceedings where appropriate.

These changes are significant improvements, but there is still more to be done. The current laws provide that children be protected from exposure to violence and abuse but research reveals that these measures are not effective because of the way the law is being implemented in Family Relationship Centres, in the Federal Magistrates Court and in the Family Court.


The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility remains in the Act and presents its own hurdle in determining risks to children's safety arising from violence and abuse. A safer option for children would be to adopt the New Zealand model of a rebuttable presumption of no contact where allegations of violence and abuse have been raised and substantiated on the balance of probabilities. Persons found to have used violence would have to show they were considered safe before contact was allowed.

Another problem is that whilst family law system professionals routinely discount disclosures of violence and abuse and construct children's best interests as a relationship with both parents, there will be continued judicial and practitioner resistance to prioritising safety from violence and abuse.

There needs to be compulsory training in family violence and child development for all family law system professionals making decisions or agreements involving children. There needs to be accountability for decisions which put parents and children in harm's way and statutory compensation available to those who are killed or injured as a result of family law rulings. There is an urgent need to prevent lawyers being able to select specific providers of family reports to support an outcome for their client.

There is now ample research to show that many Australian children have been seriously harmed and, in some cases killed, by a family law system that has prioritised children's relationship with dangerous parents ahead of their safety. Damage to infants' development and well-being has been established in research as a consequence of exposure to family violence and abuse, yet there remains an apparently enormous gap between court judgements and scientific knowledge that has somehow to be closed.

In a recent case a Family Court in Tasmania ruled that two primary school age children be in the unsupervised care of a domestically violent convicted child sex offender every second weekend and half the school holidays (Robins & Ruddock [2010] FamCA 35 (22 January 2010) .The court said the father had to have someone else stay over at night and put a lock on the children's bedroom door to keep them safe from the threat of his sexual activity.

Whilst Australian family law is capable of producing judgements where primary school age children are made to continually manage the threat of incestuous sexual abuse, a problem remains. The test of the changes to the law will be whether more children can grow up in safety from abusive parents.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Zahra, the Libs and the family law changes: A Tale That Should Never Have Happened

Zahra, is unfortunately one of many children who died at the hands of decision that the family court made. From the late eighties when Ken Bryne introduced Gardner's concept of parent alienation deeming victims of violence and protective parents as "unfriendly parents" until now, so many women and children died at the hands of judges. Judges who were warned by experts in family violence of such grave consequences if they continued to ignore victims. Anyone with common sense would look no further than the collection of analysis on familicides to know that by ignoring victims of family violence is playing with lives.

In Australia, two generations of victims have grown up through the system where there are now parents facing the same system that abused them as a child, now plaguing their children. The system that had always had the power to protect, but failed to do so for the sake of a cheap and quick service. Thats right, the lives of Australian women and children have been hijacked in favor of a cheap and quick service that caters primarily for men. Bright futures that could have been the one who cured cancer, solved our environmental crisis or made some other wonderful contribution to our community was lost in favor of a "cheap and quick" service. We don't know what Zahra Baker, Darcey Freeman or those whom in death remain nameless could have done for Australia and the wider global community. Whether the parent is a mother or a father abusing, there are signs and symptoms that the family court have ignored, despite so many that have spelled it out.

A task that victims and survivors alike should never have had to do in Australia was to lobby for a protection that should never have been robbed from them. A basic human right:

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Arguably, mens rights groups claimed that such acts were a "right", but not when they are disproportionate to children's and womens rights. These "rights" deprived both children and mothers of basic human rights. The situation was so appalling that it got a mention in a UN report against Australia.
The Family Law Amendment 2010 proposal is not only spot on, but it is vital not just in the value of life, but the value of Australia's future. The reason why Australia thrives is because so many of these women work hard to raise these children despite all odds and some of these children have made great contributions to the Australian community and the rest of the world.

Much anger, action and outrage has been raised about the deaths that occurred in 9/11, but if all of the deaths of women and children from family violence had occurred in one location - it would be the greatest act of terrorism in history. The question is why it is not as important, why action was not taken sooner and why women and children are continuing to endure abuse at the order of the family court or perhaps, "Her Majesties Pleasure".

The Australian Liberal Party, a rogue right wing cell that lost all meaning of "liberal"(except in global trade concepts), is beyond the phrase, "Out of touch" when they vow publicly to "fight" basic protection measures desperately needed for women and children. No matter how nicely put it, we all know now that its happening. It cannot be denied. there are too many that have been affected by these laws, too many that have been affected by child abuse and violence. Everyone knows and cares about at least someone that has gone through it and the campaigns simply spell it out.

As much as the liberals might have wet dreams about a totalitarian society like 1984, its just not going to happen. The mindset behind control was never an intelligent choice in the first place, it was nothing more than reviving the retro-thug from the dark ages. The art of surviving great challenges and pursuing noble endeavors is the only true intelligence and one that cannot be tested by academia, but of action and results within a collective sense of integrity.

If you wish to add your name to a historical change for the better, you can sign the petition here:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Mothers Movement and Misconceptions

From the mens movement and even the judicial perspective, the mothers movement are radical feminists. Quotes about hating men, lyrics on a menocide and destroying fatherhood is the menacing picture painted from some groups when referring to the mothers movement and other groups that oppose child abuse. Radical feminism is sometimes defined as,
“The feminist point is that sex is central to women’s oppression. It is through heterosexual desire that women are fitted, and fit themselves, into their subordinate roles in relation to men… It is women’s lot to serve men, to see no alternative to their subordinate roles in relation to men, to gain access to ‘human’ status only through men, and to embrace that as their own identity.” - Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today
Many mothers in our circumstances are heterosexual and as much as we respect the work of feminists in general, its not something that a lot of us can relate to. Some of us have new partners, or on the dating scene. We are confronted with both positive and negative experiences. There has not been a women I have met in this movement that has not been able to recall a time in their life where they had a positive, respectful relationship with a man.

Where the mothers movement and feminism meet is upon the understanding that there is a lot of violence against women more than against men and in all too many cases, her only escape is the local morgue. Sadly, the efforts to stop violence against women rarely mention mothers who make up a majority of the statistics. Even the image of violence against women is abstract. It often depicts a single women, but rarely a mother having to endure this with children. In turn, the rest of the community are ignorant as to what actually happens to mothers with children in domestic violence, and sadly they endure the most. If she is able to leave and makes it to a refuge, the family court may view that as "instable" for the children. If she is suffering from trauma, she may be deemed unfit to care for them. If she was permanently disabled, she will be deemed unfit to care for them. What a lot of people don't know or even expect is that the children in most cases will be allocated to the man who destabilized, traumatized and disabled their mother. Most credible research on family violence proves that children are mentally impaired from witnessing it and in most cases they are likely to be subjected to it themselves.

As family violence began behind closed doors, it ends behind closed doors of the Australian
Family Court. Most cases expose children to ongoing violence and trauma without respect or consideration of children or mothers lives. Addressing these issues is the heart of the mothers movement. Its not about representing just mothers, but acknowledging all victims of family violence as a unit that needs to be protected. Their relationship that needs to be respected. When a mother becomes persistent at requesting protection, the courts interpret these actions as a challenge to their power and in turn deal harsh decisions where the mother is restricted to supervised visits whilst the perpetrator retains full custody of the child. These are the problems that the mothers movement seeks to address and something we have done mostly alone without the support of feminist groups and organisations. Alot of us have at least one male family member, sometimes a son that we deeply care about that assists us in reality checking as to whether we truly have stepped on other peoples rights in our course of actions.

Another myth is that because we champion mothers causes, is that we will help abusive mothers. This is where the mens movement continually fails. The whole reason why we do what we do is because we are deeply opposed to violence and child abuse, learning a mother has abused her child is just as abhorrent as any case and there are no excuses. Many of us who have struggled so much to protect our children cannot relate to women that have abused them. We are women who love our children very much and want nothing more than for them to live a life free from family violence.

So if you expected the mothers movement to be something else, I know you will be disappointed.