Lawyers in Australia are telling mothers not to disclose domestic violence incidents in Family Court over fears that their clients will be accused of trying to alienate the other parent from the children involved.
This problem is not specific to Australia, as it is something UK lawyers also tell mothers, so this piece is an exceptionally important read, not just for the general areas of concern it highlights, but for understanding Court culture in England and Wales, as well.
Needless to say, judges and other interested parties in Australia are denying the allegations, which have been made not just by parents who have experienced the system, but by experts working in the field.
We are adding an extract from the piece below:
LAWYERS are telling mums “to lie to the Family Court” about domestic violence and child abuse because they fear their clients will be seen as trying to alienate the other parent from the kids’ lives.
The Family Court’s chief justice rejected the allegation, saying there were measures in place to ensure children were safe.
However, a number of experts told ARM Newsdesk they believed if judges suspected “alienation” – which is viewed as emotional abuse of the child – they would award custody to the dangerous parent.
Child sexual assault prevention agency Bravehearts, the National Child Protection Alliance and Dr Deborah Walsh, a domestic violence expert with 20 years experience of the Family Court, confirmed it is common practice for solicitors to warn mothers to keep abuse allegations out of custody proceedings.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said she would be raising her concerns about this and other Family Court issues at a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull next week.
Bravehearts is backing a petition for the Federal Government to roll out a royal commission into Australia’s family law system or to expand the terms of reference of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse so it can examine how the Family Court is “failing” children.
Ms Johnstone said she recently spoke to a mum who was told by two legal experts not to bother telling the court about concerns her daughter was being abused.
The woman reported the abuse to police but there was not enough evidence for an arrest, Ms Johnstone said.
“She was told that if she was to do that (lodge the paperwork alleging abuse) the court would frown upon it,” Ms Johnstone said.
“She would be viewed by the court as a vexatious mother, bringing about these allegations and coaching her daughter in these allegations – all of the things we’ve been hearing for 20 years.”
National Child Protection Alliance president Maurice Kriss said lawyers were so concerned about putting abuse reports before the court that some refused to represent the non-abusive clients who wanted to tell the truth.
“The solicitor in some cases will refuse to take on the case because he knows in advance the outcome and he doesn’t want the stress of fighting a losing battle or, losing a case that will damage his reputation,” Mr Kriss said.
“Because of equal parenting laws and attitude of judges towards equal parenting, this is something few solicitors wish to challenge.”
Dr Walsh said re-adjusting the royal commission’s investigation framework would ensure any Family Court failings could be investigated in front of the Australian community.
“Yes, I have heard of it happening on a number of occasions,” the University of Queensland family violence researcher and lecturer said of the unorthodox legal advice.
“It’s very common in domestic violence services for us to hear women be given that sort of advice.
“The commission of inquiry at the moment has uncovered a whole range of institutional abuse of children in care and so their frame of reference could be used to investigate on behalf of the children.
“People come into the family court thinking about justice and ultimately lose their children.”
Family Court of Australia chief justice Diana Bryant said she doubted the legal profession was advising people to mislead judges about abuse and that there was legislation in place to protect children.
“I doubt that it is true. I hope it’s not true,” Chief Justice Bryant said.
“I do understand that these are people’s perceptions and they arise from very complex situations.
“The act provides for matters to be raised with the court and they should be.
“No one should ever suggest it’s not appropriate in any way (to raise allegations).”
Law Council of Australia Family Law Section chairwoman Wendy Kayler-Thomson said experienced lawyers would not advise their clients to lie to the Family Court.
“The Family Law Section rejects … allegations about the way that allegations of child sexual abuse are dealt with by the Family Court of Australia,” she said.
For people in Australia >> If you are at risk of sexual assault or require support please phone Bravehearts on 1800 272 831; If you are at risk of domestic violence please phone the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.