Family courts falling short on domestic violence, says Children’s Commissioner

March 1, 2016

Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has questioned whether family courts can properly deal with the damage family violence does to children at the centre of custody battles.
And Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant said the courts are “overwhelmed” by urgent applications involving children and need for greater resources to properly assess family and domestic violence allegations at an early stage.

Ms Mitchell last year investigated the effects of family violence on children, with almost a third of the 62 submissions she received from stakeholders raising concerns about the family law system. There was evidence that courts had placed children in homes where they were at risk of being abused or exposed to violence, she said.

“I think there are serious questions about whether the court has the capacity to correctly respond to family violence generally, particularly where children are concerned,” she said.

Judges deciding where children lived needed more help from experts to understand how family violence could traumatise them and affect their development, she said: “We need to support the system to better respond to children and not place them at further risk.”

Children exposed to family violence could experience mental health problems such as anxiety and attempt suicide: “How can a child living with anxiety constantly in their lives do well at school or form relationships? It’s a terrible start to a child’s life to be surrounded by family violence in the home.”

Chief Justice Bryant was not surprised by the number of submissions on the family law system. “The family courts are currently overwhelmed by urgent applications regarding children in which allegations of violence are raised and lack adequate resources to deal with them in a thorough way, pending a complete and final hearing,” she said. To read more click here.

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