A study has found that women are receiving strong messages not to raise allegations of abuse or violence in Family Courts.
The report; No way to live: Women's experiences of negotiating the family law system in the context of domestic violence, was launched yesterday at NSW parliament House by the Minister for Women, Jodi McKay.
Dr Lesley Laing, a senior in the faculty of education and social work at Sydney University, interviewed 22 women at various stages of the family law process following a relationship separation in which they had experienced domestic violence. All but one of these women reported direct abuse of their children from ex-partners.
The report said that women "lived with fear" that they could be punished by losing the care of their children if they were seen to be challenging the inevitability of an ongoing relationship between ex-partners and children. It also found that women and their children subject to violence are often accused of fabricating their claims.
Laing concluded that the family law process was characterised by being a complex and uncoordinated system that was marked by delays and barriers to accessing accurate information.
The women who participated in the study reported that their claims of abuse were often viewed as "fabrications" within the family law system and the wider domestic violence and child protection service.
One woman reported that the Family Court had ordered the father of her children could see their children under the supervision of his parents, despite an Apprehended Violence Order [AVO] being taken out against him. That meant he was able to turn up to the house with his parents to collect his children as AVOs are lifted for Family Court orders.
Another woman said that in the Family Court, it was stressed that the father has rights to see his children, despite her telling the Court that "he's knocked me to the ground with a baby in my arms... and he's been charged and found guilty of assault."
The report backed the Family Law Council's recommendation that the definition of family violence in the legislation be amended to include a broader range of threatening and controlling behaviours. It also recommends that all professionals and services which play a role in the family law system receive ongoing and comprehensive training in understanding and responding to domestic violence.