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Family Courts and Violence

There is a contemporary but out of date view held, that men are the only primary perpetrators of domestic violence; notwithstanding the 2005/06 ABS Safety Survey shows that statistically the female-to-male and male-to-female rates are nearly equal. Clearly both men and women are found to be perpetrators of family violence.

The, widely used, Duluth model of family violence has been proved flawed by findings from Professor Dutton[2] and others, yet Governments take no notice of such studies. The ABS studies show that a singular focus on the violence of men means that other groups have no similar programs and no voice that speaks for them. These are male victims and women affected by the violence of other women.

Instead of concentrating effort into strategies for reducing male-only violence in the community, typically resources would be better spent addressing the following:-:

  • Reducing conflict and anxiety by efforts to improve and streamline the long waiting times for mediation when families have separated and one parent is waiting for the other to allow contact.
  • Education for young people leaving schools about relationships and the zero tolerance for violence in the community at large. On-going school based relationship programs to educate years 11 & 12 students about family relationships.
  • Much earlier intervention programs "early intervention measures should be mandatory for separating parents where escalating conflict is often caused by one partner withholding contact from the other."
  • Programs which examine the viability of the marriage or de facto relationship, as some couples' relationships are still viable and should not be automatically channelled into dissolution processes. We understand that marriage counselling was meant to be part of the 1974 divorce reforms to help prevent unnecessary dissolutions but was never implemented contrary to the expectations of various Churches and relationship counselling organisations.
  • More intensive psycho-educational programs such as those operating in the United States
  • More referral and interaction with Churches and other pro-marriage organisations to provide "engagement encounter" and "marriage enrichment" workshops such as run by the Catholic Church, the Fatherhood Foundation and others.
  • A serious effort at educating and improving men's health and a holistic program aimed at men and employers to reduce marital stress (night shift and fly-in, fly-out mine workers) stress levels if employees are working long hours and health related programs in relation to alcohol and substance availability and taking.

That there is a view in some quarters that the Family Courts are not able to deal with matters of family violence is worrying.

Child homicide has reduced by almost 50% since the introduction of the much fairer 2006 reforms according to NSW figures. The NSW Child Death Team Annual Reports stated:

  • In 2005, twelve children aged between 0-17 died by fatal assault
  • In 2007, nine children aged between 0-17 died by fatal assault. 2007 had the lowest child mortality rate observed over 1996-2007. This is the year directly after the reforms were instigated.
  • In 2009, seven children aged between 0-17 died in six incidents.

Government tends to opt simply to add further measures to the Family Law Act expecting the overburdened and under-resourced Family Courts to take sole responsibility for all the ills of failed relationships.

The fact is that the current Domestic Violence Interventional Programmes encourage the breakup of families and reinforce blame, and have resulted in women fleeing relationships and put their children at risk with new and unknown partners and this is an empirically observable major factor in the numbers of DV child deaths where children suffered at the hands of their mother or mother's de facto new partner. Statistically, after the safety of home of the intact family, the next safest place for children is with their biological father.

When it comes to child deaths in families it is proved that women and new partners are the main perpetrators yet the framework of the legislation dispenses with any real evidence, real facts and manages to simply find it more expedient and easier to take any other approach than address the problem.

In a significant New Zealand study, Transforming a flawed policy: A call to revive psychology and science in domestic violence research and practice: Donald G. Dutton, Kenneth Corvo, University of British Columbia, Syracuse University, men and women reported similar experiences of victimisation and perpetration of domestic violence. This is a critical and key study that covers a range of violence issues in much detail. Another key study Partner Violence and Mental Health Outcomes in a New Zealand Birth Cohort. DAVID M. FERGUSSON, L. JOHN HORWOOD, AND ELIZABETH M. RIDDER Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

In a 2008 article Michael Green QC comments, "...the incidence of maternal violence to children, both physical and emotional, is especially worrying yet attracts no media attention. Media reports are often grossly misreport and do not show the real position in the courts.

The media have a duty of care to report accurately and the public have a right to know who are the real perpetrators and the real victims. Claims by SMH journalist Ruth Pollard (Courts put kids at risk, 25/11/08), that changes to the Family Law Act are compelling courts to hand children over to violent fathers are false and scurrilous. These claims are an insult to judges and magistrates who apply the law and deal daily with serious relationship issues.

There are precise safeguards in the Act to exclude shared parenting and joint parental responsibility in cases where there are real issues of violence, conflict or abuse. The allegation that women are being "forced" into mediation with violent ex-partners is particularly mischievous. The Act does nothing of the kind, and mediators and community agencies have screening strategies to identify cases in which mediation is inappropriate.

Reducing mothers to 'victim' status is a favoured strategy of radical feminists opposed to men and does nothing for the protection and welfare of women and children." [3]

There are numerous judgements that support this view. See judgements Miller & Brass [2008] FamCA 944 (30 September 2008) and Short & Trevilian (No. 2) [2008] FamCA 215 (25 March 2008).

In both judgements, reference is made to the new Act, particularly with regard to the impacts of s60cc in these cases. The court acted to prevent exposure of the children to potential violence even though it was considered improbable that any violence would occur. The judgements in those cases make it crystal clear that safety and the interests of the child continue to be paramount.

Almost the last word on Family violence (To fix the link)

Secretary SPCA comments in relation to a Safety First campaign petition to amend laws to better protect children (To fix the link)

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