In 1997 Rights of Women published a research report Contact between children and violent fathers: in whose best interests? (Anderson, 1997). Our findings then indicated that mothers in child contact proceedings felt that their views about the risks to themselves and their children of contact with violent fathers were marginalised by professionals in the family justice system. They indicated a misuse of the law and legal procedures in child contact cases by violent ex-partners as a means of continuing their abusive behaviour, evidence of lawyers or judges allowing or even enabling this approach and case law and practice which emphasised contact as the desired outcome, whatever the circumstances. The research also raised issues around the function and standard of (then) Child Welfare Officers and their reports in contact cases.
Since 1997 there have been significant developments in the law and policy on domestic violence and child contact, yet anecdotal evidence from our family law advice line indicates ongoing failures and missed opportunities within the family justice system to protect women and children from violent ex-partners and a tendency by judges and other statutory professionals to minimise domestic violence in the context of applications for child contact.
This research explores the experiences of women and legal professionals of the law, policy and practice in child contact proceedings and, 15 years on from our original research, supports many studies revealing that women continue to have similar negative experiences of the family justice system’s response to domestic violence. It makes a compelling case for significant change in the way that domestic violence is addressed by the family courts.
Added: February 5, 2015