Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings

Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings

A pre-reform exploratory study

Lawrie Moloney, Bruce Smyth, Ruth Weston, Nicholas Richardson, Lixia Qu and Matthew Gray

Research Report No. 15 — May 2007
Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings

This research was commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General's Department to provide baseline information to assist in informing the Australian Government's Family Law Violence Strategy.

The study examines (a) the prevalence and nature of allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings filed in 2003 in selected registries; (b) the extent to which alleging parties provided evidence in support of their allegations, and to which allegations were denied, admitted or left unanswered by the other party; and (c) the extent to which court outcomes of post-separation parenting disputes appeared to be related to the presence or absence of allegations.

The study was based on a content analysis of two random samples of court files from the Melbourne, Dandenong and Adelaide registries of the Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and the Federal Magistrates Court (FMC): 240 files from the general population of cases in which parenting matters were in dispute (the general litigants sample), and 60 files from judicially determined matters in which parenting was in dispute (the judicial determination sample).

In summary, a total of 300 court files were analysed: 150 from the Family Court of Australia and 150 from the Federal Magistrates Court. It should not be assumed that this sample is representative of the divorcing population. In other words, the findings should not be generalised to this population.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Lawrie Moloney currently has a part-time appointment at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is an Associate Professor at La Trobe University, and Director of the Department of Counselling and Psychological Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences. He also co-directs the Children in Focus program that aims to promote child-focused and child-inclusive ways of resolving post-separation disputes. Lawrie is a former Director of the Family Court Counselling Service, and has had a long association with the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Bruce Smyth, at the time of writing this report, was a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is now an Associate Professor at the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute at the Australian National University in Canberra. Bruce has published widely in the area of family law.

Ruth Weston is a General Manager of Research and Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She has had a long-standing interest in divorce research, dating back to her work on the economic and emotional consequences of divorce for the Settling Up and Settling Down series.

Nick Richardson is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is currently involved in several of the Institute's family law projects, and is also enrolled in a Doctorate of Psychology in clinical psychology at Monash University.

Lixia Qu is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She has a wide range of experience in family trends analysis, and has conducted macro- and micro-level research in areas such as couple formation and relationship stability, fertility decision-making and the determinants of mothers' labour force participation.

Matthew Gray is Deputy Director (Research) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is also the Executive Project Manager of Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Dr Gray has published widely on economic and social policy issues.


We would like to thank the Attorney-General's Department for its generous support of this project, particularly Sue Pidgeon, Kym Duggan, Marian Esler, David Syme, Matthew Osborne, Anita Mackay and Alison Playford.

We are especially indebted to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court for their willingness to participate in the study, their openness and their unequivocal support. In particular, we would like to thank: The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant; Chief Federal Magistrate John Pascoe AO; Dianne Gibson; John Mathieson; the Family Court of Australia Research and Ethics Committee, particularly Judicial Registrar Smith; the Family Court's Statistical Services Unit, especially Dennis Beissner and Colin Farlow for extracting the various random samples from Casetrack; and Jane Reynolds and Geoff Noonan (Melbourne Registry), Brenda Field and Lyn Imlach (Dandenong Registry) and Julie Byrne and Phil Hocking (Adelaide Registry) for their help in providing the designated court files at each registry.We are deeply indebted to Ewan Hall of the Victorian Bar for his major role in developing the coding frame and to Ewan Hall and Joshua Teague (of the South Australian Bar) for conducting the content analysis and coding of the court files and for reading an earlier draft. The quality of the data attests to the expertise, diligence and meticulousness that both barristers brought to this work.

We are also indebted to colleagues at the Australian Institute of Family Studies: Dean McCorkell for building the FileMaker Pro version of the coding frame and writing the scripts to convert the relational database information into SPSS data files; Ross Millward for dealing with the intricacies of generating nested random samples and for providing IT support throughout the life of the project; Carole Jean and Joan Kelleher for conducting the preliminary literature searches; Anita Emmanouilidis for her help obtaining the many references that we used; Stephanie Amir for summarising the case narratives presented in Appendix C and for her help developing the violence typology; Jennifer Renda and Suzanne Vassallo for performing the reliability coding of the violence typology developed for the study; Daryl Higgins and Leah Bromfield for advice along the way about child protection matters; and Professor Alan Hayes for his unwavering support of the project.

Finally, we would also like to thank Professors Nicholas Bala and Bryan Rodgers for their helpful comments on an early draft of this report. Any shortcomings and errors, of course, are the authors' own.

Legal restraint

Disclosure of Family Court information is subject to legal restraint. As set out under Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975, the publication or dissemination of the identity of any individual in any proceedings is prohibited under the Act. Considerable care has been taken at all stages of this research not to breach this legal restraint. Accordingly, the details of people and places used in this report have been changed to protect the identity of all litigants and their significant others. At no stage was any identifying information from any court file (including the actual court file case number) noted by the research team.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 15
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, May 2007.
184 pp.
ISSN: 
1477-1477
ISBN: 
978 0 642 39550 4
Suggested citation:

Moloney, L., Smyth, B., Weston, R., Richardson, N., Qu, L., & Gray, M. (2007). Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings: A pre-reform exploratory study (Research Report No. 15). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

 

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