I was wondering whether the reference to family dispute

					                 Australian Institute of Judicial Administration

                          Family Violence Conference

                              Towards Best Practice

                    Brisbane, Queensland, 1-3 October 2009

     Best Practice and Recent Experience in Family Dispute Resolution

            Diana Bryant, Chief Justice, Family Court of Australia

                   Friday 2 October 2009, 9.00 am to 9.45 am



The current context

It hardly needs saying that family violence in all its dimensions is an issue of
major concern to Family Court judges, management and staff.


Throughout its more than 30 year history, the Family Court has modified and
refined its approach to the management of disputes involving family violence as
we have become more informed about its causes and effects, short and long
term, and especially how violence affects children.


The reality we currently face, as any judge of the Family Court would tell you, is
that parenting disputes now coming before the Court routinely involve allegations
of violence and it is common for the one case to contain multiple allegations.
The type of behaviour alleged and its effect on children in particular is
increasingly serious and concerning. Allegations of violence are often
accompanied by allegations of substance abuse, poor mental health and other
forms of social dysfunction. These are the „everyday‟ children‟s cases that are
being heard in the Family Court.




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The increasing complexity of cases going to trial and the frequency with which
allegations are raised is of course reflective of societal changes as a whole but it
is also a product of changes to the Family Law Act and system over the years.


Insofar as it is possible to discern trends in the major amendments to the Family
Law Act (apart from its burgeoning voluminosity), I believe one is the increasing
emphasis on identifying family violence at an early stage, imbuing violence with
real significance in the determination of disputes and improving interaction
between state intervention orders and parenting orders.

For example, in 1995, mandatory reporting obligations were imposed on the
Court, investing court personnel with a statutory obligation to notify the relevant
child welfare department when a party makes an allegation of child abuse. We
make a notification every time a Form 4 „Notice of Child Abuse or Family
Violence‟ is filed, where child abuse is alleged, and in the last financial year 441
notifications were made through that process.


Division 11 was also inserted into Part VII the Family Law Act in that year to
resolve inconsistencies between contact orders made under the Family Law Act
and family violence orders made in State courts. The list of „best interest‟ factors
was amended to include specific reference to family violence.


In the years subsequent to the 1995 amendments there were many forceful
statements issuing from Family Court judges at trial and on appeal about the
destructive effects of family violence on its victims, which were not only confined
to allegations of actual physical abuse.


The Full Court in Blanch & Blanch & Crawford ((1999) FLC ¶92-837 spoke of the
“wide and more serious dangers that an abusive parent presents to children than
the obvious danger of physical harm. In addition to that harm children can suffer
insecurity, fear, unhappiness, anxiety and hypervigilance from witnessing



                                                                                       2
abusive behaviour of a parent. Such effects present a threat to their emotional
development. Probably the worst danger to children is the role model that a
violent parent provides..."


In the 1990s and into the new century there was also a much greater
appreciation of the benefits to families of resolving disputes outside the court
system where possible, and this translated into increased funding for community
based rather than court based family dispute resolution services.


In 2004, the Court promulgated new Rules, which for the first time required
prospective parties to make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute before coming
to court (with certain exceptions, including disputes involving allegations of family
violence or the risk of family violence).

In 2006, major and far-reaching reforms were made to the family law system.
Greater emphasis was placed on encouraging parties to resolve their parenting
disputes by agreement where possible and considerable funding was injected
into the community sector to expand the number and type of family dispute
resolution services offered and to establish a network of Family Relationship
Centres. For more than two years now it has been compulsory for parties to
participate in family dispute resolution processes prior to initiating proceedings in
the family law courts or to seek an exemption from participation.


Logically this suggests that those parenting cases that enter the Family Court will
be those either unamenable to resolution by agreement or possessing features
that render family dispute resolution inappropriate, such as there being
reasonable grounds to believe there has been family violence or there is the
threat of family violence.


Further, the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006
(Cth) made a number of significant amendments in the area of family violence –



                                                                                    3
for example, elevating violence or the risk of violence to one of two „primary
considerations‟ – and imposed new obligations on family law courts where
allegations of violence are raised.


The flow-on effect for the Court, in terms of violence being disclosed or raised
more often and the issues in dispute being more complex, made it apparent we
needed to realign our policies and procedures to best meet the needs of high-
conflict families seeking a judicially determined outcome where family violence
was in issue.


The Family Violence Strategy 2004-05



Any activity we undertake in that seeks to address family violence is informed by
the Family Court‟s Family Violence Strategy 2004-05. It emerged from a
comprehensive review of our 1993 family violence policy, commissioned by the
former Chief Justice.

The Family Violence Strategy contains guiding principles and key action areas.


There are eight guiding principles, namely:
     1. Primacy of safety
     2. Recognition of the impact of family violence
     3. Recognition of the impact of violence on children
     4. Recognition of the diversity of court clients
     5. Risk assessment approach
     6. Importance of information provision
     7. Community partnership approach
     8. Importance of development programs

The five key action areas are:

1.     Information and communication


                                                                                    4
2.   Safety
3.   Training
4.   Resolving the dispute
5.   Making the decision.


The former Chief Justice established a steering committee and external
reference group to implement the Court‟s strategy through specific activities in
each of the five key action areas. Although all identified actions have been
completed, and I‟ll refer to the most significant of those in the balance of my
presentation, the guiding principles and action areas continue to provide a
framework through which the Family Court develops its responses to family
violence.


Safety at Court

A fundamental tenet of the Family Court‟s operation is that all who attend the
Court and work on its premises should be safe and it is an obligation we take
very seriously.


I commend the Family Court‟s Safety at Court Protocol to you, available through
the Court‟s website, which provides overarching direction for securing the safety
of Court clients. Other allied materials, such as the family violence policy for
Child Dispute Services and family violence guidelines for registrars, work in
conjunction with the Safety at Court Protocol.

The Protocol contains a series of defined steps that must be followed where it is
brought to the Court‟s attention that a client has safety concerns. In essence,
this involves engaging the client and providing information about support options
(including referrals to police and domestic violence agencies as appropriate),
determining the level of need, checking for a family violence order or Notice of
Child Abuse or Family Violence, and explaining the safety options available.
These can include familiarisation visits, separate waiting areas, separate



                                                                                    5
interviews, staggered arrivals and departures, telephone, video link or CCT
attendance, security guard escort, police attendance and the presence of a
support person at Court.

Once options have been discussed with the client and an approach agreed upon,
a safety plan is drawn up by a Client Services Officer. The plan is placed on the
Court file and entered in Casetrack, the Court‟s electronic case management
system, and is forwarded to the person conducting the next court event.


Ensuring that our client services staff are alert to the possibility of family violence
and take appropriate steps is, self evidently, critical in protecting the safety of
parents and their children at risk.


We conducted a screening and risk assessment pilot in the Brisbane Registry
from September 2005 to April 2006 to ensure that family violence issues were
identified as early as possible in the Court‟s process and, where appropriate,
safety plans developed with the client to facilitate their safety and maximise their
capacity to participate in court events. The pilot was evaluated at its conclusion
by Relationships Australia, which found that the pilot was successful in improving
clients‟ perceptions of safety at Court. Customer feedback showed that the
ability of clients to participate in Court events has been maximised by feeling
safer before arriving at Court.


Both the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court have implemented the
family violence screening pilot on a national basis, through what is known as the
Integrated Client Services Delivery Program. The „Safety at Court‟ module of this
award-winning program was designed to ensure that staff understand how they
contribute to the Family Violence Strategy, know how to gather information to
prepare a Safety at Court Plan and understand security procedures.




                                                                                       6
Staff members in every registry have received specialised family violence training
through this program and incremental training will be provided to new staff
members.


Working with Families and Children: Family Violence and the Child
Responsive Program



In addition to the training provided through to all staff through the Integrated
Client Services Delivery Program, specific, targeted family violence safety and
screening policies have been developed for family consultants, who work
intensely with families through the Child Responsive Program.


The Child Responsive Program operates as the „front end‟ of the Less
Adversarial Trial. It involves a series of meetings between a family consultant,
the parents (or other carers), and the children. The meetings focus on the
children‟s needs and the aim is to assist parents and the Court to achieve the
best outcomes for the children.


Where family violence has been identified prior to the matter entering the Child
Responsive Program a safety plan will have been developed where required.
This information will be entered into Casetrack and appointments will be made in
accordance with safety requirements. This may require that appointments are
made for each parent on different days.

Even when family violence has not been previously identified, the intake and
assessment meeting in the Child Responsive Program is always conducted with
each parent separately to provide another opportunity to screen for family
violence.

Risk assessment is an integral part of the Child Responsive Program and
commences at the intake and assessment meeting. The family consultant uses a



                                                                                   7
questionnaire to guide the interview with each of the parents asking specific
questions regarding frequency, pattern and type of violence and children‟s
exposure to violence. When family violence is identified for the first time at the
intake and assessment meeting stage, the family consultant will develop an
appropriate safety plan for future court events with the case coordinator.

When children are identified as being at risk of violence, either through reports
from parents or as a result of meetings with the family consultant and the child,
the family consultant will make a notification to the relevant child protection
agency.

Risk is assessed every time the family consultant meets with the family and
children and is an on-going part of the family consultant‟s work. The level of risk
may change over the course of the family‟s involvement with the Court and the
family consultant needs to be attuned to this possibility.

Any assessed risk is outlined in the Children and Parents Issues Assessment
document that is prepared by the family consultant following meetings with the
parents and children. This is part of the material available to the judge on the
first day of trial, thereby alerting the Court to any allegations of violence and the
possible impact of any violence on the children. It assists the judge in settling the
issues in dispute, in making orders for the provision of evidence directed to the
allegations of violence and in making any protective or interim orders that may be
required pending the continuance of the trial.

Commonly, in cases where violence is alleged, the trial judge will order that a full
family report be prepared.


Where such an order is made family consultant will undertake a more extensive
evaluation. This occurs through clinical interviews with extended family,
observations of children and parents/carers, consultation with other professionals
and relevant agencies, viewing relevant subpoenaed material, and using risk



                                                                                        8
assessment tools to assess the risk of future violence occurring. Information
obtained by an independent children‟s lawyer from other sources such as police
records, hospital records, and criminal histories can also inform the assessment
undertaken by the family consultant.

As part of their professional development, family consultants have been trained
in the principles and practice of risk assessment which consider general, specific
and cumulative risk factors. Additionally, they have access to the core
knowledge database with relevant research and literature on family violence and
child protection.

With the new, extended family law system framework it is often the case that
parents have already been linked to suitable community support services before
attending court. Where this has not already occurred, referrals are made to
domestic violence support services, women‟s support services and community
legal services. For example, in Sydney women‟s support services are available
within the Court on at least two days a week.


Section 60K and Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence (Part VII orders)

A process has also been put in place to ensure that allegations of violence are
brought to the Family Court‟s attention as early as possible, to enable
consideration to be given to making orders protecting parents and children and to
enable appropriate evidence to be gathered. This process was developed to
give effect to the Court‟s obligations under section 60K of the Family Law Act,
which came into effect on 1 July 2006.

Section 60K places an obligation on courts exercising jurisdiction under the Act
to take prompt action in cases where there are allegations of child abuse, family
violence, risk of child abuse or risk of family violence by one or more of the
parties to the proceeding.

It applies where:


                                                                                    9
       an application is made to the court for a Part VII order;
       a Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence is filed in which a party alleges
       violence or abuse or the risk of either; and
       the allegations contained in the Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence
       are relevant to whether the court should grant or refuse the application
       made.


Under section 67Z it is compulsory for a party to file a Notice of Child Abuse or
Family Violence when making an allegation of child abuse or risk of child abuse.
Upon filing of a Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence, the court must
consider as soon as is practicable:

       what procedural or interim orders should be made to protect the child who
       is the subject of the proceedings or any party and to enable evidence to
       be obtained about the allegations as expeditiously as possible;
       whether an order should be made under section 69ZW to obtain reports
       from State and Territory agencies in relation to the allegations; and
       whether an order should be made or an injunction granted under
       section 68B.


The court must then make such orders as the court considers appropriate and
deal with the allegations as expeditiously as possible.


The Family Law Rules provide that an affidavit must be filed with the Notice of
Child Abuse or Family Violence providing particularisation of the allegations of
violence and/or abuse.

Once filed, the Notice of Child Abuse or Family Violence and affidavit are
referred to a duty registrar. In light of the allegations contained in the Notice of
Child Abuse or Family Violence and supporting affidavit, the registrar will
consider the appropriate listing option.


                                                                                       10
The Court‟s suggested practice is for practitioners to indicate their preferred
listing option.

In determining listing options, the duty registrar may decide:

         that no interim or procedural orders are necessary, in which case the
         matter proceeds along the standard case management pathway;
         that interim orders are necessary and within the registrar‟s delegation; in
         which case the matter will be listed for procedural or directions hearing;
         that interim orders are necessary and not within the registrar‟s delegation.
         Where the duty registrar forms this view, the matter will be listed before
         the duty judicial officer (Judge or Senior Registrar) with power to make
         appropriate interim orders.


Specific time standards apply to the Court when a Notice of Child Abuse or
Family Violence is filed. Where protective or interim parenting orders are needed
urgently, these will be made on the same day on which the duty registrar
receives the Form 4.

The Form 4 process has been designed to ensure that allegations of violence or
abuse that are relevant to the determination of a parenting dispute are brought to
the Court‟s attention as soon as possible. The Court cannot fully ventilate
allegations of violence or abuse, or put adequate protections in place, unless the
Court knows about them. Yet, on the basis of the statistics obtained from the
Court‟s Casetrack case management system, it seems that Form 4s are only
being filed in approximately 10% of all parenting applications and around 22% of
applications for final parenting orders. These figures do not seem to be to be
reflective of the frequency with which such allegations are made, which is in my
view is in a significant majority of children‟s cases that come before the Family
Court.




                                                                                       11
Why then are these figures comparatively low? I suspect the answer in part lies
in what seems to be a common misapprehension – even amongst lawyers – of
the consequences of alleging violence or abuse where those allegations are not
subsequently found at trial to be „proven.‟

The offending provision is section 117AB, which was inserted into the Family
Law Act in 2006. It states that the Court must make a costs order (representing
some or all of the opposing party‟s costs) against a party who knowingly made a
false statement or allegation in the proceedings. It does not apply where one
person makes an allegation and the Court, whether because of lack of evidence
or other reason, is unable to find that the act complained of actually occurred.
Basically, section 117AB is only relevant in cases where a person makes a
malicious allegation that is found to be untrue. Furthermore, it applies with equal
force to false denials as it does to false allegations.


The section has been used sparingly and in cases such as that where the trial
judge found that a mother deliberately and consistently recorded false
statements she claimed the children made against the father, and which the
mother subsequently repeated to the police and in evidence before the Court,
such that the trial judge found that the mother deliberately sought to mislead the
Court. Another example is one where the Court found that a father, in filing
material in family law proceedings where he denied the mother‟s allegations of
sexual abuse but subsequently admitted them to the police and was tried and
convicted, deliberately made a false statement sufficient to attract the operation
of section 117AB. There are no cases in which an order has been made
pursuant to section 117AB against a party simply because they raised allegations
of family violence that were found by the Court not to be proven.


However, it seems that the myth is as powerful as the reality and for that reason
I‟ve suggested to the Attorney-General that he give consideration to removing the
provision from the Act. I understand he is sympathetic to this position.



                                                                                     12
Making the Decision

Another important tool at judges‟ disposal is the Family Court‟s Family Violence
Best Practice Principles.


Assessing the veracity of allegations of violence and abuse is one of the most
difficult tasks that Family Court judges face. Almost always in such matters it is a
case of the victim‟s word against the accused, with little (if any) corroborative
evidence available to the Court. Yet, it is essential that the Court makes a
careful, considered and detailed evaluation of the evidence available to it so as to
make orders which best secure the safety of children and other vulnerable family
members.


I believe the issue-based focus of the Less Adversarial Trial and the greater
control exercised by the trial judge over the conduct of proceedings, including the
evidence to be relied upon, enables judges to bring a more structured and
purposive approach to their consideration of allegations of violence and abuse.
The Family Violence Best Practice Principles also assist in the attainment of that
objective.

They too have their genesis in our Family Violence Strategy.

Under the Strategy, a working group was charged with the responsibility of
reporting on the merit or otherwise of adopting guidelines similar to those used in
the United Kingdom, which are known as the Guidelines for Good Practice on
Parental Contact in cases where there is Domestic Violence.


This process was given additional impetus by the enactment of section 60K.

The best practice principles operate as a checklist of matters that may be
considered when a judge is considering making interim orders, ordering a family
report, presiding over a trial or making consent orders. They also contain


                                                                                    13
matters a judge might wish to consider when he or she has made a finding that
family violence has occurred or that there is an unacceptable risk of a child being
exposed to family violence.

They also go to matters a judicial officer may wish to take into account when they
have determined that it is in a child‟s best interests to communicate or spend
time with a person against whom a finding has been made. These could include,
for example, time being spent at a children‟s contact centre, or that the matter be
brought back before the court at a future time to assess whether the current
arrangements are working well.


The Family Violence Best Practice Principles are informed by research
undertaken by leading researchers in the field who have written extensively
about the typology of family violence and the importance of differentiation in the
way families experience violence. As Michael Johnson has said: “Partner
violence cannot be understood without acknowledging important distinctions
amongst types of violence, motives of perpetrators, the social locations of both
partners, and the cultural contexts in which violence occurs.”


The best practice principles were also the subject of an external consultation
process with key agencies and the feedback we received through that process
was invaluable.


I intend for the best practice principles to be reviewed on a regular basis. I am
interested in seeking feedback from the court‟s clients, lawyers and legal
professional associations, social scientists and others about how useful a
document they are and how they could be improved.


The Commonwealth Attorney-General launched the Family Violence Best
Practice Principles in March 2009, where he said “these principles will assist the




                                                                                     14
Court in ensuring that the welfare of children and victims of abuse are at the
forefront of all decisions made.”


That is undoubtedly true. But I think their application is broader than that of a
resource for judges only. They should provide assistance to legal practitioners in
taking instructions from clients, of taking appropriate steps where disclosures or
fears of violence are made (such as ensuring a Form 4 and supporting affidavit is
filed), in formulating orders sought, preparing affidavit material and in trial
preparation more generally. I hope the best practice principles will encourage
lawyers to think about family violence in a more nuanced and critical way;
particularly the relationship between the disclosures or allegations and the orders
being sought. If a parent alleges that their ex partner has regularly and
persistently engaged in conduct that has all the features of serious controlling
violence, and that has adversely affected the children, I would expect the orders
sought to reflect this.


You can find the best practice principles on line at the Family Court‟s website and
hard copies are also available in registries. I encourage you to familiarise
yourselves with the principles if you have not done so already.


Differentiated Case Management – Magellan

Those parenting disputes involving allegations of sexual abuse or serious
physical abuse of children are managed through a dedicated case management
process known as Magellan. With the exception of New South Wales, where the
application of Magellan is more limited, Magellan operates on a national basis
and has done so since 2003.


The crux of Magellan is that it is overseen by a Magellan team, consisting of the
Magellan Judge or Judges, judicial associates, the Magellan registrar, a Senior
Family Consultant within Child Dispute Services and a client services officer.



                                                                                    15
Under the direction of the Magellan Judge, the team handles the case from start
to finish, with significant resources directed to the case in the early stages. The
aim is to resolve Magellan cases within six months. Legal aid is uncapped for
Magellan matters.


Magellan was initially evaluated in its pilot phase, where the results were very
encouraging. As Magellan has now moved to a national case management
approach, a further evaluation was commissioned and undertaken by the
Australian Institute of Family Studies. The evaluation report was published in
2007.


Dr Darryl Higgins, who undertook the research, used qualitative and quantitative
measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The quantitative findings
were obtained by comparing „Magellan‟ and „Magellan-like‟ cases1, „Magellan
like‟ cases being those with similar features but not managed through the
Magellan program.


The evaluation found that Magellan cases, when compared with „Magellan-like‟
cases:
          are resolved more quickly

          have greater involvement of the statutory child protection department

          have fewer Court events

          are dealt with by fewer different judicial officers; and

          are more likely to settle early.



Dr Higgins undertook qualitative research also, through interviews and focus
groups with stakeholders. Stakeholders were asked to nominate the key



1
    Namely, cases with similar features but not managed through the Magellan program.



                                                                                        16
successful elements of the Magellan model. The research found that the most
positive elements of the Magellan process were:

       cooperation between all the agencies involved

       Court timeliness and prioritisation of Magellan cases

       early reports from statutory child protection departments

       good individual case management and

       child-focused processes



These finding were consistent with those that emerged from the earlier
evaluation of Magellan as a pilot program.


Magellan is undeniably successful, as assessed against a whole raft of
measures. In an ideal world we would manage every case involving credible
allegations of child physical or sexual abuse using the Magellan approach.
Unfortunately Magellan is a resource intensive model and that is simply not
possible without the injection of significant additional funding, especially for legal
aid.


Inter-agency cooperation

The AIFS Magellan evaluation confirmed that the willingness and capacity of the
various „actors‟ in the family law system to work together is critical to Magellan‟s
success. Inter-agency cooperation is an area in which we continually strive for
improvement; acutely aware that duplication, overlap and role-confusion are
ever-present dangers in the family law system. The consequences for children
who „fall through the cracks‟ are, literally, life or death.


As far as the relationship between the Family Court and State and Territory child
protection agencies are concerned, the Family Court has entered into child



                                                                                     17
abuse protocols with each of the state child welfare agencies, to facilitate co-
operation and sharing of information and to ensure each other‟s processes and
procedures are well understood. These protocols reflect the agreed
arrangements as to information exchange, referrals, requests for information,
requests for intervention, departmental investigations and options for interacting
with the Court.


The interaction between Commonwealth and State laws, policies and procedures
in the area of family violence is notoriously complex and I am pleased that the
Attorney-General has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission and the
New South Wales Law Reform Commission to conduct an inquiry into the area.


I appreciate that a considerable amount of work has already been done in the
area, including by the Family Law Council, but I am confident that the various
inquiries and research projects will complement rather than detract from each
other. There are positive signs of that already. The report Domestic Violence
Laws in Australia, which was prepared by the AGS for the National Council to
Reduce Violence Against Women and Children and released late last month,
was described by the Attorney-General as providing “valuable input” to the
Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in considering a national family
violence order register and providing a basis for the ALRC family violence
inquiry.


We also have statements of understanding with referral agencies on a national
and State/Territory basis, which were developed as part of the Integrated Client
Services Delivery Program. These Statements clearly set out referral
arrangements and the roles and responsibilities of the Court and individual
agencies in referral service delivery. A number of these agencies offer support
services to perpetrators and victims of family violence.




                                                                                   18
Additionally, regional and registry management teams are responsible for
developing relationships with local stakeholders within their service delivery
region. The Family Court‟s stakeholder engagement guidelines specify the types
of organisations with which registries should establish and maintain relationships
and “domestic violence agencies” are an identified group under the guidelines.


I convene my own Family Law Forum every three months, where representatives
from the FMC, Attorney-General‟s Department, FaHCSIA, the family dispute
resolution service sector, legal aid, community legal centres, the Child Support
Agency, the family law section and others meet and discuss issues of shared
concern. I find the Forum meetings very valuable as a way of sharing
information and keeping up to date on developments and I believe the other
Forum members find them useful also. The next meeting is being held in
November and I have invited Professor David Weisbrot from the Australian Law
Reform Commission and the Hon. James Woods from the New South Wales Law
Reform Commission to attend to canvass preliminary thoughts on their family
violence reference.


Family violence – breaking the deadlock

The Family Court will of course be making our own submission to the ALRC‟s
family violence inquiry. One of the issues I intend to raise is what I perceive as
an ideological impasse in the public discourse around family violence.


The nature, cause and effect of family violence has always been a highly
contested area of debate, involving as it does gendered constructions of
motivation and behaviour. It is unsurprising therefore that what can loosely be
termed „men‟s groups‟ and „women‟s groups‟ have occupied polarised positions
on the family violence spectrum as it interacts with private family law.




                                                                                     19
Those advocating on behalf of men maintain that gender bias in public
institutions like the Family Court operates to paint men as aggressive and
controlling bullies, whereas the reality is that women often manufacture
allegations of violence to further strategic ends (to prevent contact with children)
and men themselves are even the “hidden victims” of violence. Those
advocating on behalf of women maintain that the Family Court routinely exposes
women and children to harm perpetrated by ex-partners by privileging child
contact with both parents over safety, and by ignoring or diminishing allegations
of violence when they are raised in court proceedings. And, as I mentioned
earlier, women who voice their concerns but are unable to legally substantiate
them will be ordered to pay the other party‟s costs.


I appreciate these are generalisations, but these are nevertheless broadly the
two types of criticisms that have been levelled at the Family Court since it was
first set up.


It is not a trend that is confined to „men‟s groups‟ and „women‟s groups‟ as such.
Tensions permeate the academic and professional spheres too, and although the
exchanges are perhaps more measured than those that are played out in the
media, that doesn‟t mean that the degree of discord is any less real.


In the United States, where the same issues have been agitated, the AFCC and
the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges had a conference
called „Wingspead‟.


More than two years in the planning, Wingspread brought together 37
experienced practitioners and researchers to discuss ways of more effectively
meeting the needs of families affected by family violence. Wingspread was born
of a real concern that exchanges between researchers and practitioners were
acrimonious and tended to focus on the issues in contention, rather than on
maximising opportunities for cooperation.



                                                                                    20
A major goal for the conference was to begin to develop a common vocabulary
for, and a shared understanding of, the ways in which domestic violence
manifests and its implications for families. Other goals for the working conference
included an examination of the capacity of the court system to support family
safety and well-being, identification of ways to improve the case handling
process, and consideration of how limited resources might be allocated to and
among cases in which domestic violence has been identified or alleged. Given
the complex and challenging nature of these aspirations, a final goal was to
generate and seek commitment from conference attendees to support specific
ongoing projects growing out of the conference agenda.


The aspirations of the Wingspread initiative are shared by those who are
promoting the establishment of a national judicial institute on family violence,
which will be debated at tomorrow‟s closing plenary session. I am a committed
supporter of such an initiative.


I understand that noted academic and author Professor Janet R. Johnston, who
attended and presented at the Wingspread conference, is visiting Australia in
November and speaking at the Family Relationships Services Australia
conference on how to begin that process of dialogue. I too am presenting at that
Conference. I am very much looking forward to Professor Johnston‟s paper,
which I am sure will be replete with wisdom and insight into beginning the
process of engagement in a notoriously complex area.




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Description: I was wondering whether the reference to family dispute