Mothers Protecting Children in the Family Court

October 12, 2016

The 2016 STOP Domestic Violence Conference is almost here again, this year the conference will be held over 5-7 December at the Mercure Brisbane, QLD.  Dr Helena Menih,  Lecturer at the University of New England, Ms Zoe Rathus, Senior Lecturer at Griffith University and Dr Samantha Jeffries, Senior Lecturer at  Griffith University will join us at this year’s conference and discuss ‘Mothers Protecting Children in the Family Court: Victims’ Experiences of Family Reports Where there is Family Violence’.

Cases involving allegations of family violence are core business in family law proceedings over parenting disputes in Australia. While there is a growing body of research analysing the impact of such allegations in judicial assessments of the child’s best interests, less is known about the crucial role played in proceedings by the most frequently used independent evidence the family report. Family reports are prepared by family consultants, who are generally either social workers or psychologists. They provide expert evidence to the court about the family dynamics, how the best interests of the children might be served post-separation and are often the only’expert’ information available to the judge.

Family reports make influential recommendations to the courts about post-separation arrangements for children and, because of their status as an independent document and the somewhat ‘official’ position of family report writers, the reports are also influential in out of court negotiations, eligibility for grants of legal aid and other matters. This paper will present data from Queensland based pilot research about mothers’ experiences of family report writing in the context of allegations of family violence. Grounded in their stories, the data reveals a mixed understanding of family violence. The women described both positive and negative experiences, but many felt that the impact of the violence was minimized, they were discouraged from discussing it or it was ignored. We will consider the recommendations made by family report writers in these cases and some suggestions for change.

Dr Helena Menih is a lecturer at School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at University of New England. Her research expertise are: Gender and crime, Vulnerable populations, Risk and space, Identity in social context, Domestic violence and Human trafficking.

Ms Zoe Rathus is a senior lecturer at Las School at Griffith University. Here research expertise are: Family law and family law systems, particularly in relation to family violence and gender related issues; Impact of the 2006 reforms to family law, in particular in relation to shared parenting, family violence and parental conflict ; Indigenous children and the family law and child protection systems; and Women and the criminal justice system.

Dr Samantha Jeffries is a senior lecturer at School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. Her research expertise are: Courts, Domestic violence, Indigeneity, gender and criminal justice, Sentencing, and The Sex Industry.

The 2016 STOP Domestic Violence Conference will be held on 5 – 7 December at the Mercure Brisbane, QLD. For more information on the conference and to secure your registration, please visit the conference website.

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