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In the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout recounts how her father explained, “… you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them”. In the politics of divorce and the government’s response, a masculine perspective drives reforms. These reflect a persistent attitude by a federal government that refuses to “walk in the shoes of victims of family violence”. Overwhelmingly, these are women and their children.

This is exposed in the new family law amendment by changes to the definition of family violence. It is proposed that the wording will be changed from the victim’s “fear” of violence to a “reasonable fear” of violence when considering evidence presented to the court.

The current climate in family court is fraught with disturbing cases where children have paid a gut-wrenching price when judges have overlooked or trivialised violence and abuse to mothers. The deaths of three brothers last September during a court ordered access visit, and the deaths of Jesse and Patrick Dalton at the hands of their father, placed in his care by the family court are forgotten, swept under the carpet and ignored. Instead, the government continues to bend to the pressure by father’s rights advocates.

On January 29 2009, an unimaginable act took place on the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne. Horrified motorists reported seeing a man throw a little girl from the bridge into the river below like a piece of unwanted garbage. The latest family law inquiry was generated by this crime because this little girl was killed by her own father after the Family Court made an order that led to the opportunity for him to commit this crime. This event revealed an unintended consequence or "mischief" in family law processes may be that a parent who is a risk to their children is not being adequately identified during family law processes.

The information generated by the inquiry into this event identified that a broadening of the definition of domestic or family violence in the Family Law Act is one way that a parent who is a risk to their child may be better recognised during the family law processes and this sort of event may be avoided. It has been well established that where domestic violence is extant in a family, it is a 'red flag' to the safety and well being of children. The amendments to the Family Law Act are now before the Senate Committee.

It has since emerged that the mother in this case tried to raise her fears about the safety of the children with the father at various points along the process, but it is apparent her fears were not heeded.

Domestic violence advocates say there’s a troubling pattern in child custody disputes: Too often, they assert, family courts deny a mother’s claims of domestic or child abuse, and instead place a child in the care of dangerous parent.

While advocates and lawyers have long shared anecdotal stories, a first-of-its-kind study from George Washington University has shed light on how the phenomenon has played out in courts across the country.

The study, written by professor of clinical law Joan S. Meier, shows that mothers who report abuse — particularly child abuse — are losing child custody at staggering rates. To Meier, the data provides a window into what she considers a parallel to the #MeToo movement.

The adaptation of Jane’ Austen’s Mansfield Park (1999) by Patricia Rozema has some interesting commentary pertinent to the crux of this article. Mansfield Park is Austen’s tale of Fanny Price, who is basically given away to rich relatives by her poor family, an occurrence Rozema states happened quite frequently in those days. She says, “I think that people were somehow less connected to their biological origins back them”.

This would seem to indicate that people are somehow more connected to their biological origins these days or that poverty-forced parting of children is no longer as prevalent in western countries. Given the child abuse cases that have emerged recently, there is good evidence that it when it comes to parental rights, the biological connection is powerful.

Take for example, the recent child abuse case in Canberra. It is reported that the child protection authorities tried three years ago to remove the children, but the Court was not convinced by the evidence which was presented.

Just 3 per cent of fathers who go before the Family Court are refused access to their children, casting doubt on One Nation senator Pauline Hanson's claims that mothers are using the court to deny their ex-partners time with their kids.

Senator Hanson made waves on Wednesday when she gave a radio interview after being named a co-chair of the federal government's controversial new inquiry into Australia's family law system.

"I'm saying to those women out there, don't throw domestic violence orders against your ex-partners just to further your case or get control of the children," Senator Hanson said.

"That's not fair or right. There are people out there who are nothing but liars and will use that in the court system. You can't defend these people and I will not defend them."

She said she was hearing of "too many cases" where "parents are using domestic violence to stop the other parent from seeing their children".

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, regardless of allegations made in the Family Court, fathers retained visiting or parenting rights in 97 per cent of cases.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)–Mary Lou French took her children into hiding in Costa Rica and later Panama because she feared they were being sexually abused. Tracked by fathers’ rights groups and the FBI, she was arrested, becoming the first to face stiff mandatory sentencing for international parental kidnapping, a federal crime. Facing up to 12 years in jail if she pleaded guilty, French risked even longer imprisonment if she exercised her right to a trial and lost.

In a trembling voice, she told her story during a recent San Diego conference on family violence of her anguish after extradition. “There I was in prison, and my children were with the perpetrator–and no one was listening.”

French is one of an impossible-to-tally number of women who flee the authority of the U.S. family court systems rather than give custody over to the fathers whom they accuse of sexually and physically abusing the children.

recent decision by the Family Court of Australia suggests that it is out of touch with general community standards and reveals that the law needs further amendments.

A father who was charged and convicted of downloading child pornography has been granted weekend overnight access to his two young daughters. He was previously found guilty in a criminal court of downloading internet material that by its nature is produced from the actual abuse of children. Furthermore, he was found guilty of “reproducing” child exploitation material.

The judge ordered that during the weekend overnight contact, he must have a friend present in the house and that the children’s bedroom door needs to be locked at night. In the comments section to the news article about this decision, comment number 69 asks, “What is it about the Family Court that keeps doing this? This is NOT the first time it has happened. Why is the court giving sex offenders access to children?”

Emma (name and identifying details changed) was married to a man in the military for many years. During that time, he repeatedly abused her and their children. She reported the abuse to the police and to the military. 

When she went to court, she had recordings of her husband’s threats against her. But a court decided to award custody of their children to the father. 

Why? The father claimed parental alienation, that Emma was alienating the children from their father by false claims that he was abusing them. 

Hera McLeod weeps as she looks at pictures of her deceased son, Prince, in 2013. (Mary F. Calvert/FTWP)Right: Hera McLeod weeps as she looks at pictures of her deceased son, Prince, in 2013. (Mary F. Calvert/FTWP)
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