Trauma continues as Family Law Act fails children

30 June 2010

Children whose parents divorce because of domestic violence are being exposed to further emotional risk by well-intentioned custody changes made to the Family Law Act in 2006, a study has found.

Senior lecturer in social work in the Faculty of Education and Social Work Dr Lesley Laing conducted the study, interviewing 22 women, contacted through domestic violence services, who were negotiating parenting arrangements in the family law system.

No way to live is the first study that has allowed women experiencing domestic violence to speak about the impact of the 2006 legal changes that put greater emphasis on shared parenting while still maintaining protection in cases of violence.

Dr Laing said some women felt guilty they had escaped violent men but their children had not. ''Forty years ago some women could only escape domestic violence by leaving the children behind, and they were pilloried,'' she said. ''Now there is a new form of child abandonment, at least part-time. It's a terrible thing we are asking women to do.''

Dr Laing said the changes to the act had failed to include any requirement that a parent who has been a perpetrator of domestic violence must demonstrate they can offer a safe and meaningful relationship.

She said the women she interviewed reported being subjected to community attitudes that regarded them as liars who misused the system and professionals stressed the importance of fathering, without regard to its quality, while mothering was taken for granted.

"Assumptions within the system are that at least some contact [with a violent father] was inevitable, no matter what violence had occurred, and that supervised contact would eventually move to unsupervised contact," Dr Laing said.

"The women in the study are the ones whose children are supposed to be protected by law, yet they describe situations where they were discouraged by legal advisers from raising issues of violence in the Family Court for fear of being labelled as an 'unfriendly' or 'alienating' parent unwilling to support contact with the father.

''Spending time with the person who is the cause of the trauma will not fix things.''

Contact: Dr Lesley Laing

Phone: 02 9351 4091

Email: 34503e3f104e4b2d003c2d1e253b1e023a5d0f600854277f5613