Children’s involvement in family law proceedings has been debated for many years and now, a new article in Crikey argues that children should have a say in the outcomes of family law matters relating to them.
It isn’t actually the case that children are completely muted in the family court system. In determining the best parenting arrangements for a child, the family courts do take children’s views into account indirectly, by being conveyed through interviews with family consultants and their resulting reports. Such family consultants can be social workers or psychologists however they require no special accreditation or training in family violence—and this is where the criticism begins.
Apart from the perceived lack of understanding and training in issues surrounding risk such as family violence, family consultants have been known to discuss abuse allegations with the child in front of an alleged abuser, which introduces bias:
“Children often refuse to speak, or end up telling outright lies about abuse allegations they had previously disclosed. This can fall back on the other parent who are sometimes perceived as being vindictive, inventing abuse to win custody.”
And the Crikey article claims that children aren’t adequately interviewed about safety:
“[Instead they are] “ignored, misinterpreted, or placed in dangerous and uncomfortable situations with their alleged abuser”.
Hayley Foster, director of Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW, is quoted as saying:
“We have cases where children won’t be asked at all. Children are being asked questions in a way that may encourage a certain view. And kids who do present their view are often misconstrued and analysed by consultants as the child being angry”.
Crikey concludes that the system is “relying on untrained family reporters” and “time-poor judges” and that “to prioritise safety, kids need to be able to weigh in on custody decisions.”
Is this the correct conclusion though? It seems that if the issue is really with untrained family consultants and/or children being questioned in front of an alleged abusive parent, then reform should address family consultant accreditation and training and ensure consultants do not interview children beside an alleged abusive parent.
While there are good arguments in favour of permitting more direct contact between children and judges, simply advocating to have children stand in the witness box during their family law matter is unlikely to be the solution.
Do you need assistance with a parenting matter or another family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.