Family Law: Dire Consequences for Children

The family law legislation which is currently in force in Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada is proving to be having disastrous consequences for the children of those countries and are often leading to serious breaches and violations of their rights under international conventions.

The legislation is largely framed around the rights of parents and in particular to their rights to a `meaningful relationship’ with their children after separation and divorce and to `equal and shared parenting’. Such terms and the general approach have meant that children are treated merely as possessions and commodities and for their time to be split as courts may, in their wisdom, choose. The rights of children under UN Conventions are given only token regard in the law and in court practices, especially their right to be protected and provided with a safe and secure environment in which to grow and develop and to have their wishes and feelings taken into consideration when decisions are made affecting their lives.

It seems to be of no matter that a parent may not have previously enjoyed or even sought a `meaningful relationship’ with the child prior to separation, and may even have disliked, shunned, or been indifferent to the child and his/her needs. Neither does it matter if the parent has spent very little time with the child prior to the separation but has pursued their own recreational and leisure activities and taken no interest in the child. The approach taken by courts is to ignore or disregard such conduct by a parent and simply apply the rule that the parent has the absolute and inalienable right to a see the child and to have care of the child.

An even worse scenario occurs when a parent has used violence toward the other partner – violence which has either direct or indirect consequences for the child, in that the child will at the least have suffered emotional harm from seeing or experiencing the conflict and its effects, and will have often experienced physical violence and abuse when the violence was being perpetrated, and occasionally may have suffered sexual abuse.

Although the legislation does make some reference that such child abuse should be taken into account in family law proceedings, the courts tend to see the ‘right to contact’ of the parent as the overriding consideration. In a large proportion of cases where domestic violence has occurred prior to separation, such violence continues after separation and the children are used as innocent pawns by one or both partners to cause harassment and frustration to the former partner as a means of exercising continuing power and control over them.

The Voices of Parents

Often the abuse of the child continues during contact or with the resident parent as illustrated by the following statements of parents who have written to me for advice and assistance :

A mother writes:

“I have two small boys and I always believed that as a mother I had the right, the duty, the obligation and the absolute power to protect my children. The reality is – I have NO power – I am totally and utterly powerless to protect my children and keep them safe from sexual, emotional and psychological abuse and there is no one who wants to. Assumptions are that the Family Court will do that. What I have been given is continued abuse by the father, directly and through the children, and by the courts, and the departments involved, so instead of the cycle being stopped – the system has perpetuated the abuse”.

Or as a father wrote to me:

“My young son is being looked after by his mother and her new partner, and three years ago I received strong evidence that he was being abused by them. When I passed this information to the child protection authorities they flatly refused to even investigate and for the last two-and-a-half years I have taken this matter through the Courts but with no success. No one seems to care when a child may be being abused.”

Many such cases of child abuse fall between the cracks in the child protection system. Child protection authorities refuse to investigate the allegations as they consider that in such cases the investigations are a matter for the Family Court and the Family Court do not have the expertise or the resources to competently and correctly investigate child abuse allegations. In some instances where the child protection authorities have investigated allegations of child abuse and have found them to be substantiated, this has been disregarded by courts.

If a protective parent seeks to guard their child against abuse by the other parent during contact visits and they stop or limit the contact, they risk very serious consequences by the courts. They risk imprisonment which has happened to at least two mothers in Australia and other mothers in the UK and America, but more commonly the residency of the children is taken from them and the children are placed with their abuser. The numbers of children who have died in Australia during the last ten years as a consequence of such decisions are unconscionable and unacceptable.

Shared parenting has been seen by courts as an inalienable right of parents, yet it is very clear in many cases that some parents should not be permitted residency or contact with their children, where there is evidence they have used violence within the home or have criminal records, or are known abusers of drugs and alcohol.

Reform

This situation where the law and the courts are clearly working in the worst interests of children must be changed and I would suggest need to take the following form.

First, I would suggest that the family law is completely re-written from a children’s rights perspective, so that each child’s right to be protected from abuse is given paramount importance. Children need to feel safe, secure, and to have certainty in their lives.

Secondly, the term `the best interests of the child’ should be abandoned. It was first created in Nazi Germany to justify the atrocities which were done to children during the War years in that country. What it amounts to is the subjective opinion of the adult making that decision. It should be replaced by a statement that it ‘must be to the measurable and demonstrative benefit of the child’.

Thirdly, the views and wishes of children in family law proceedings must be given paramount importance and children should have the right to give their expressed wishes directly to the court and not for the subjective and distorted opinions of an adult to be offered instead, professional or not.

If reforms are not made to family law legislation, then many hundreds more children will be condemned to suffer serious abuse and death in the future.

Charles Pragnell Dip.S.W., L.R.C.C.

Charles Pragnell has over 40 years experience in child protection work and working with emotionally and behaviourally disordered children. He is presently a Child and Family Advocate advising children and parents on issues in Family Court and child protection proceedings. He has provided expert evidence to courts in England, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia.


7 thoughts on “Family Law: Dire Consequences for Children

  1. Ahhh- a voice of reason and wisdom. Having experienced the “soul murder” of social services recommending children to live with their rapist- the pedophather- ; I note with something akin to despair; the increasing numbers of destroyed children. Destroyed lives. Children are ignored and protective parents are ignored. Insanity.

  2. This is a brilliant expose of how it really is for children in the secret family courts.

    No wonder it is all kept secret, because it is really – Legaised child abuse, abuse of human rights, destruction of innocent souls.

    I used to think I was the only protective parent who was forced to watch my children being destroyed by the court agents- social workers, psychologists, etc, but through the internet I met more and more over the years since 1995.

    The Patriarchal system still sees women and children as its possessions to be used and abused, and above all, kept under control, and if that means being placed with the abuser- so what- the patriarchal system is based on violence and abuse as it creates money.

    Thank you Charles for this.

    It should be compulsory reading for all judges, etc.

  3. It a total myth that British family law ”always favours the mother”-it is very much patriarchal and will reward fathers for taking an ”interest ”in their children by awarding them custody irrespective of what the need is of that child i.e maternal care and attention .It ignores the importance of that maternal bond to the healthy development of the child and is happy to sacrifice that ,all because of the popular politics of ”fathers rights ” and that the courts must not be biased and “favour” mothers . Single mothers are a burden & cost more to the state than single fathers so you can see where the trend is developing.

  4. I am dealing with so many cases where abused mothers are being punished by the sytem for daring to break free of domestic violence.

    I am seeing the same pattern, protective mothers made homeless from their own homes, which they own and the abuser does not own, nor has he paid a penny towards.

    I read the reports and all feel sorry for the abuser and even make excuses for his childhood, on only beating the hell out of her once…so that’s all OK then, is it?

    I also see the numbers of protective mothers being written out of the lives of their children, with reports citing that the authoritarian aggressive father is better for the children and the loving flexible parenting of the mother is not in harmony, so best eliminate the mother until children are 18.

    These protective parents are speechless that a system which claims that children are the most importand people in the process, yet the judges order children to live with abusers- where they will witness abuse, feel fear and suffer as human beings.

    I have researched to find the beliefs in history and sure enough it is all there.

    “Mothers have no connection to their children, they are mere incubators.”

    Women are not equal to men but their slaves- it is all there in his- story.

    Suffering is good for the souls of children- so now we know why patriarchal system of male energy agents have no problem ordering children into abusive environment.

    If children were truly appreciated, what judge would order them to suffer, like their patriarchal god orders.?

    Why is child abuse legal when the judge orders it? Surely in law, the judge is guilty too.

    Why do those in power ask victims to come forward for the sake of the children, then that system place the same children with the criminals?

    This is insane. it is deceptive intelligence and change must happen sooner rather than later.

  5. It is horrible what we as mothers are going through and the abuse these children are suffering!
    The message being sent to our children of our future is WRONG! We are telling them they don’t matter. There is no justice system. Law is something to fear and is unfair.
    They have no voice. They have no choice. I have been researching the family court system for over a year and the mens rights are so abusive for the most part it is horrible. The double standard and praise given to men for just showing up overshadows their real intent which is to get that child support amount down. They are getting such pats on the back and it is all manipulation of the system. Why can’t anyone see this?
    I really can’t understand the women who align with them either. I had a female judge who just smiled this creepy smile at me and I found out later who she was and how powerful she was and then knew what the smile was.

  6. My ex-husband spiked my food repeatedly (with various substances) over several months for the purposes of making me “intereseted” in him sexually (he had a sex and porn addiction) and, among other abuses during our relationship verbalised that he “sometimes wished (I) was dead”. I eventually ended up in hospital with psychosis, and took years to recover to my former mental and physical health. Later, following separation, my 9 year old daughter reported to me (and police during interview) that her father had been getting undressed and getting into a single bed with her every evening, whilst on one of his visits to Australia ‘spend time’ with her, and his penis had touched her leg. I reported the history of abuses (including emotional and psychological abuses, isolation, yelling and threats of smaking) to my solicitor and a court appointed psychologist. My ex-husband manipulates others with his charm, intelligence and calm demeanor. The psychologist recommended that the child be allowed to travel to New Zealand to spend unsupervised time with my ex-husband. Without consultation, my solicitor cancelled my barrister on receipt of the psychologists report (on the eve of the Family Magistrate’s court hearing), based on the psychologists advice, and informed me that it was likely that the Court would implement the psychologists recommendations. I was completely shocked, and still am in disbelief and totally disgusted at the court process, the ‘professionals’, and family law. I ended up making an order ‘by consent’ stating that visits were only ‘to occur at a place as agreed between the parties, including the child’. My daughter and I subsequently only agreed to visits at places where other people are present. This was the best outcome I could achieve to protect my daughter at that time. My legal costs were more than $80,000 by the time the court process ended. However the emotional, psychological and financial abuses (to my daughter and myself) have been ongoing and I have only temporarily managed some relief recently though seeking a domestic violence order (which was never mentioned as an option by my solicitor). I believe my ex-husband (who is of scandinavian origins) is a sociopath/psychopath. My daughter is scared of him. He seeks total control. My daughter and I are not allowed to leave the city where we live (due to court orders) and he refuses to renew my daughter’s passport. I have received 1 child support payment in the past 8 months. My main concern however is my daughter’s safety, and in this respect my daughter (who is now 13) and I have been completely let down (and abused) by people, court processes and laws in Australia, the country of our birth.

  7. Well, It’s 2 years+ past my first post here and I stumbled upon this page yet again. I have lost nearly everything and can no longer support my daughter without assistance. I want to thank Family Court in the US for destroying my child and my own financial stability, security, safety and basically our lives as we knew them to be. I have been in litigation for all this time. My business went under and this self sufficient single parent who gave back to society and taught her daughter to do the same is not functional but there’s no assistance for us now is there?! My daughter has been suicidal and self harming but I have helped her back from that dark place. She was an honor roll student who had NO psychological problems and neither did I but we suddenly were court ordered to 3 psychological appts. per week to court appointees who WRECKED OUR LIVES all so a man who cared less about her for the first decade of her life could exercise his parental rights at all cost. He gained a child support order and two people who long for time to go by or a funeral to occur. This is the America I am supposed to be proud of? Oh and he’s a 9 times felon in my county alone. Thanks alot. No matter what you tell yourself how I may have deserved this, I have evidence to the contrary. How could a child deserve it? Genetics? She no longer believes in the law, God nothing. Thanks for these commenting opportunities since they are free.

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