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An inconvenient truth: family violence study ignores effects of false allegations

Do you believe false abuse allegations adversly effect the treatment afforded to genuine domestic violence concerns in family court parenting matters?

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Last week a major study commissioned by the Attorney General was released to the public. The Family Violence and Family Law in Australia project sought to sought to discover the impact of family violence during and after (parental) relationship breakdown, from the perspective of children and parents, and the impact of the amendments to the Australian Family Law Act 1975 implemented by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility Act) 2006.

The report was a collaborative effort involving researchers from the disciplines of criminology, law, education, psychology and social work, from three universities, Monash University, the University of South Australia and James Cook University, collected data directly from parents and children.

The study, co-authored by Thea Brown, a professor of social work at the University of Melbourne, and Dale Bagshaw, an adjunct associate professor in social work at the University of South Australia sought views from parents and children from 1995 to the present time to make a comparison between the period prior to the introduction of the amendments and the period afterwards.

Individuals and staff from various organisations provide assistance to the study, including; South Australian Governments Womens Information Service, Associate Professor Charmaine Power from Flinders University, the North Queensland Combined Womens Services, North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service, SERAS Womens Shelter, Townsville Legal Aid, Townsville Community Legal Service and the Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service.

931 adults (74% women, 26% men) and 65 children (including two 5 year olds) completed the online survey, with 135 parents and 12 children participating in further qualitative telephone interviews.

This massive report, some 500 plus pages in two volumes, was released on the AGs web site without much fanfare or hype and after reading it, I understand why.  Two words sum this study for me; underwhelming and unremarkable. There is nothing flowing from the study that would cause the AG sleepless nights. Nor is there anything flowing from the study that would justify a review of the current legalisation. At best the study probably further demonstrates the misconceptions in the roles of various support services in these types of matters. Of particular note in this study are the misconceptions surrounding the role of family dispute resolution where family violence allegations are in play.

At the end of the lengthy investigation, the authors concluded that the views of children should be taken into consideration by the Courts when determining post separation parenting arrangements and that the family law socio-legal service system has not sought to place adult and child safety after parental separation above all other principles, and unless it can move to do this family violence will remain an unresolved, serious problem for families who seek separation as a way of ending family violence, or who experience family violence as a result of separation. These conclusions are questionable.

The fact of the matter is that family law courts and family consultants do consider the views of children when determining parenting arrangements providing they are mature enough to formulate their own views and is an additional consideration required by the Family Law Act. The mean age of children who participated in the study was 12.8, which is about the age at which a Family Law Court take a childs views into account. As mentioned previously, two 5 year olds completed the online survey which strongly likely indicates a significant degree of parental input.

Returning to the other conclusion drawn from the study, whilst a primary consideration of the Act is that the children should benefit from having a meaningful relationship with both parents, it is in effect subservient to the other primary consideration, that being, the need to protect children from physical and psychological harm. In reality, in a situation where family violence or abuse is a factor in parenting determinations, the need to protect children from harm eclipses all other considerations.

So when the authors of the study say the family law socio-legal service system has not sought to place adult and child safety after parental separation above all other principles, where are they coming from? Personally, I cant see how the need to protect children from risk of harm could be further elevated in the Act to a status above that already attained. The inclusion of adult in the conclusion is a rather curious distinction and probably need explanation by the authors. The Act does have provision for injunctive restraining orders for personal protection. Are the authors suggesting steps beyond that which already exist? Who knows.

What concerns me, and lacking in this study, is any meaningful consideration of false abuse allegations and the effect false allegations have on the family law system and professionals.

The study makes fleeting reference to false abuse allegations as follows:

There are also escalating concerns that allegations of abuse (usually made by mothers against fathers) are often not believed in the Family Court context, in spite of evidence that allegations of child abuse are rarely false and that false denials of abuse are more prevalent (Brown, Sheehan et al. 2001; Saccuzzo, Johnson et al. 2003; Shea Hart 2003, 2004; Brown and Alexander 2007).

The assumption by the authors that allegations of child abuse are rarely false is frankly absurd.

The study ignores an inconvenient truth. The fact is false abuse allegations are very common in the Family Law parenting matters. The authors would only need to peruse a sample of the judgements published on the Family Court web site to find evidence that their assumption that false abuse allegations are rare is false. Given that only a small proportion of judgements are published the examples of false abuse allegation cases on the Family Court web site must represent only the tip of the iceberg. The fact is false allegations are very common in family law parenting proceedings and should be a cause for concern.

The authors reported that women and men found reporting child abuse after separation difficult because it was hard to provide evidence and many reported that they were not believed by professionals in the family law context, even when they could substantiate the abuse. And I agree. This has been my experience.

There is a high degree of scepticism about abuse allegations. I witnessed this first hand in a Case Management Hearing before the Magellan Registrar late last year.  The Magellan Registrar made a statement that left me somewhat stunned. Midway through the conference she proclaimed, All parents lie! Thankfully I held my tongue and didnt respond. But this example illustrates the attitude of court staff to abuse allegations. In family law courts parents have a reputation for misrepresenting truth. And the cause is for this degree of scepticism is the frequency of exaggerated or plainly fabricated false abuse allegations in family law parenting matters.

The study also ignores the reality that the Child Support Act and Family Law Act operate in together to incentivise parents to manufacture or exaggerate abuse allegations in order to minimise the proportion of overnight stays for the purpose of maximising child support entitlements. Not that any parent would admit this motivation. In my experience, if two parents are arguing over the number of overnight stays per fortnight in a 2-4 day range, then its likely one or both parents have Child Support in mind.

False allegations by a parent against another parent create very significant problems. Investigation and evaluation of family violence allegations absorb are intensive and consume a disproportionate amount of scarce resources which would otherwise be directed towards the appropriate evaluation of genuine family violence treats. False abuse allegations dilute the effectiveness of existing resources and put children who are at genuine risk, at far greater risk.

My previous example possibly indicates that false abuse allegations may lead to family law professionals and court staff being less receptive and responsive to genuine family violence concerns. Perhaps false abuse allegations crowd out attempts by genuine victims to be heard by professionals and court staff.

False allegations can potentially rob a child benefits derived from having a loving parent participating and contributing meaningfully in their life.

Family violence is serious a problem that needs to be addressed and probably more needs to be done in this regard. However I dont believe family violence issues in the family law system can be further advanced without the effect of false allegations being addressed as part of the solution.

The powers that be might begin by acknowledging that false allegations are common, recreating tangible problems and not glossing over the issue in the manner dealt with by the authors of this study. They then might consider redefining child abuse to include deliberately fabricated false abuse allegations by one parent against another.

The Family Law Courts could be less tolerant and take a harder line against a parent found deliberately manufacturing false abuse allegations for the purpose of manipulating court outcomes.

If parents could be relied upon to be honest and not fabricate false abuse allegations in family law parenting matters, then genuine family violence would attract the appropriate level of response they deserve. Unfortunately, parents cant be relied upon in this regard, and false abuse allegations undermine the level of treatment afforded to genuine family violence concerns. Reduce the level of false abuse allegations through increased deterrent measures and thereby improve the treatment of genuine family violence concerns.

At least, that's my theory.

Hear, hear, well said, and well responded, 4MD.

And apologies for this being a one line response, but I think 4MD has pretty much covered most of it.

Inconvenient Indeed

Yes, you've hit the nail on the head.
What I feel exacerbates the problem is the accessibility of Family Violence Intervention orders. These orders can be sought without a summons, which often means without the attendance of a respondent. It is very on sided and relies heavily on the honesty of an applicant who in some cases may have other motivations.
That is another  point. What are the motivations to fabricate a story of violence and cause so much anguish?  What is driving the escalation of accusations?
One point that was raised to me yesterday was that women cannot possibly comprehend the experience of these accusations. A man who one day has a job, a house, a partner he loves, and children he adores, and is their protector, can suddenly be cast out and lose everything in just 15 minutes when a policeman knocks on his door explaining he must leave because she's alleged he's done something. That man is no longer able to protect anything. His manhood is stripped bare and the courts won't listen to him until a contest hearing 3 months later. He is left worrying over little things like if his wife remembers to lock the childrens windows at night.

I've been following a recent case in a local Magistrates Court where a very reputable non-violent (verified by co habitants of the house) man who loved his family was booked and confirmed into a meeting by his wife so she could go to the court on that day and seek an IVO.
He didn't find out till a week later when he got a call from the police to attend the local police station and told he could not go home. As a tradesman he now had no home, no family, no tools = no income. So his business failed.

He was restricted from seeing his happy laughing 13-month-old son for 3 months. The son he had cared for and put to bed each evening for 13 months and fed and entertained each morning while his wife slept. The events portrayed to get the IVO were false but he is yet to give evidence at a contest hearing.

The reason she did this? I was told she met some women from her church some months earlier who had a history of the same thing a couple of times each with different men. They convinced her it was easy and she would keep the house, the furniture, and all the luxury items plus get both Centrelink payments and child support.

Why would a church group support this behaviour? It depends on the Church, but some AOG or Pentecostals thrive on this. I've witnessed these groups actively encourage women to leave stable non-violent environments and with false allegations of violence both women and men can get caught up with the attention & sympathy they receive. Family violence and post separation parenting seminars run by these church groups and others get funding from many sources and has become a lucrative industry in itself. But there are many other stakeholders, this is just how his story unfolded.

From my experience the Federal Magistrates Court system is geared towards counselling, mediation & dispute resolution to discuss issues and work out problems to ensure a cohesive separation or reconciliation but aim towards the best interest of children. But an IVO or allegation of violence works against this as it hinders & restricts the communication process. Sure an exception for counselling & mediation is included in an IVO but each side is so guarded by that stage particularly if allegations are false. For mediation to work there must be an element of trust. If one parent lies it's doomed from the start. until they face up to the consequencesof their actions

So what of this mans now 16-month-old son? He doesn't laugh so much now. Last I heard he doesn't see either his mum or dad much because she puts him in government paid childcare during the day and he stays with different church friends at night while she's looking for another partner.
His dad who loves him is a statistic of the system who up till recently is still fighting for his son but with a presumption of guilt until the contested IVO hearing. But without the money to take it to the family court, There seems nothing he can do.
Watched the same thing happen to my son. His child was 7 weeks old. 4 months before successfully contesting the AVO. Another 4 months until interin family hearing. 14 hours supervised time with his child as this was all that was offered.
Then at interim magistrate left things supervised   ( at the same contact centre where no visits are available due to waiting for another vacancy) until another hearing 6 months away. He is now half way in time to that hearing in time (3 months to go). He has not seen his child.
He had to leave area as he lost his job (AVO = dismissal) he had to get court orders to get even his clothes, he has seen his child 14 hours in 13 months and the financial cost has been many thousands. He is not game to try to do much as the police have warned that she may take out another AVO which would again need defending at his financial cost. Legal aid is not available to defend an AVO even if broke.
She has spent nothing - no $ as she is a single mum who is seen as leaving an abusive relationship (not true) all based on her angelic face and her word. She had no income until baby and did not prieviously work.
Some people do use the system and it can be men and women, but agencies are geared to aid women use the system by automatically giving them the information to do so. It is in their favour to continue in this way. My observation has been that all agencies that deal in family law have a bias to the residential parent who in most cases is the woman and all the better for her if violence is mentioned.
I am really sick of hearing the false accusations other women make to manipulate the situation to their benefit and now having been through a case where the children cried the child protection workers about what happened and were/are so scared of the father they are being sick on changeover day and curling up in a corner crying. The good liar convinced them(court, child protection, police) it was false because when we were together I was one of the few women that left the house and all my property, I went for help at the police and was told that it was my husband what did i expect them to do? Since I first went seeking an avo when he smashed the windows of my new home when he found out where I was (including his own children's rooms), I have been treated like an utter piece of garbage by everyone telling me they can not be 100% sure as it is too easy for false allegations to be made.

I never wanted to gain property, the house or no contact for him out of any of it. I want to feel safe, I want to go to bed at night and not fear him stalking round my property, I want my kids to be able to know there father even though they are showing signs of severe distress, I do feel this could change if they knew they would be safe around him. Although my ex was primarily emotionally abusive and admitted to a lot of emotional abuse towards the children - he has increasingly become violent and aggressive, no matter how much proof I have no-one with police right to courts even wants to look at it. I feel I have been penalized just for being a women and abuse being involved.

Through the liars in jail I say and help protect us legitimate victims feel safe again and let those loving fathers get the time they deserve.
Faith, The police will do nothing in my case I had an AVO put on me.  My ex went to a town that was 5 hours away and did not have reliable transport to get there.  Appeared by video for the mention but Magistrate would not run a final by video and  would be required to appear in person in the town that she relocated too.  In the end I asked Magistrate how long she would make to the order for and she said the end of the year and I said fine.  There was no Violence only her imaginary fear of me.  The day the order expired, the police are knocking at my door with you guest it another order.  I had not seen her for the entire time the final was in place.   I did go to court this time and told the  Magistrate this amounted to harassment and made an undertaken as I did not want to deal with the ex.  undertaken accepted by ex along the same lines as a avo with an end date of the undertaken.

My problem was I miss understood the first AVO and thought it include my boys.  It cost me 17K to see my boys for 21 hours under supervision.  After the final AVO order I was just done… I could not take anymore legal stuff and get letter for her / mines solicitors.  Family law matter were just left at adjourned .

Weapon used in Family Court..

the AVO
Big guns - Abuse of the children  Form 4
nuclear option - Sexual abuse of the Children

I had all three used on me..

The police never contacted me regarding the Sexual abuse claims. DCP never contact me regarding abuse of children.  I later read in subpoena documents the police made a note that they felt the mother was coaching the children.  BUT THEY TOOK NO ACTION AGAINST THE MOTHER!!!!

Now I back in court had to spend $1000's on family reports there is an ICL that in the end of the day I will be up for half his cost, the the mother is on welfare and legal aid  won't have to pay a cent.  No problem with her keeping it in court as it will not cost her anything.  The mother has so aliened the children to her I may never be able to have a normal relationship with the children - But I willing to try I love them very much!!!
Newguy, I have seen both ends of the scale mine were no-one will listen because  "it may" be a false accusation (instead of looking into) and then the other scale where our closest friend had the physical abuse allegations against him and had her whole family lie for her. She claimed that for 4 years he beat her till she was black and blue from head to toe - funny thing is she would where bikini type outfits all summer and in winter a dress still - her outfits never left much to the imagination if you get what I mean and in the 6 years I knew both of them I didn't see one bruise on her. she claims she would always wear jeans and a baggy jumper to hide the bruises even in 40degree heat which is so not true.
But because she has so many people to lie for her she gets away with it.

False accusers make things difficult for loving fathers and real abuse victims. Funny thing is many lecture their children about lying and then coach them into making allegations - many of us will end up with pretty screwed up kids because of manipulative parents - what are they learning? they are learning to lie and manipulate to get what they want.

Just keep holding on newguy, Our love for our kids is all we need sometimes to help us get through it all.
newguy said

Now I back in court had to spend $1000's on family reports there is an ICL that in the end of the day I will be up for half his cost, the the mother is on welfare and legal aid won't have to pay a cent. No problem with her keeping it in court as it will not cost her anything. The mother has so aliened the children to her I may never be able to have a normal relationship with the children - But I willing to try I love them very much!!!

Sorry to hear about your troubles. Unfortunately very common scenario. You sound a little down. But you need to get your head straight.

Your post contains some unhelpful thoughts that won't serve you.

It isn't the role of the Police to take action against false allegations. You aren't necessarily up for half the legal fees, your wife might well be if she has fabricated the whole thing. Nothing's written in stone.

Shake off the negative beliefs. Stay positive. Do you home work. Keep asking questions. Sense check your thinking. Read as many abuse related Judgements as you can find.

If you have specific questions about anything, ask them here.

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