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Australia's Family Court system failing to protect children

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Domestic and family violence is a repeated pattern of behaviour (Image via Pixabay)

Six years of fighting Family Court battles to try and protect her son from abuse has left one woman feeling powerless to keep him safe. This is her personal account.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses domestic violence and sexual abuse

I AM WRITING this, not for publicity but to raise awareness of injustice in the Family Court and police systems. And to help other people in Family Court battles, who are fighting, not for themselves but to protect their children.

Last year I gave a submission to Deputy Chair of Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System Senator Pauline Hanson. The Select Committee then asked me to give further evidence of my experience of domestic violence, the Family Court and the police, and how the system does not protect the ones who are fighting for what is right.

I find myself in a Family Court battle once again — this has been going on since our son was one. He is now six and I feel so exhausted, as I have exhausted all avenues to protect him.

It all started when I left my ex-partner six years ago. I left because he was very abusive and I suffered domestic violence in our relationship. I suffered sexual abuse in the relationship — he would strangle me and force me to have sex with him. Many times the police were called on many occasions when he hit me. He was an alcoholic and showed signs of substance abuse and it was not until later that I found out he was using the drug commonly known as "ice".  

He continued to see our son over that time but things started to get fairly worse. He would send me abusive messages; he was drunk all the time and stoned. The last straw was when he hit me when I was holding our son — our son fell out of my arms and he just caught him by one leg before he hit the concrete. I called the police but they did not do anything and told me to get off his property. He continued to ring me constantly, send me text messages and stalk me.

I got a restraining order against him and ceased all contact with him until he could have supervised visits with our son. I moved and didn’t tell him where I was living as I was scared for my safety.

When our son was turning one, I reached out to him as I wanted him to have a relationship with our son and he started to see our son. His behaviour had not changed — he was drinking and using drugs and abusing me on a regular basis but I wanted our son to have his dad so we reconciled. However, his behaviour got worse over time and the manipulation and the abuse continued, so I broke it off.

I was returning to work in the mines and so, hired a nanny. My ex-partner took me to Family Court and even with all the evidence of him being deemed unsafe by a psychologist and an unfit parent, he was still granted care. The judge still ruled 50/50 custody because I was a Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) worker.

My ex would constantly breach the orders and not return our son. He constantly breached a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) but nothing came of it. Many times he would ring me and abuse me, threaten me and when I went to pick our son up when I returned from work, he wouldn’t give me our son.

Our son was only one at the time and he kept him from me for 15 days. I had to go to Family Court to fight to have him returned to my care. I was at breaking point but I had to keep working and stay strong as I had two other boys from a previous relationship.

I knew our son wasn’t safe in his dad’s care due to his dad's alcohol and drug abuse, but no one would listen. His dad eventually moved our son up to his parent's place, without my consent. His mother and his dad enrolled our son in kindergarten and I was not allowed to attend or gain any information regarding him while he was in their care for the week. They would not allow me to talk to our son and the abuse continued from his dad via text messages and phone calls. I told my family I would not be surprised if one day he kills me.

The abusive messages continued, but I was so worn down that when the DVO expired I could not face going through it all again to have it extended. I have moved many times to keep myself safe because I do not trust my son's dad. 

I have a new lawyer now and I have raised my concerns constantly about the safety of our son while he is in his dad's care. I have had many mediation sessions with my son's father but nothing has come of it. I have had Family Court reports written and they have mentioned that he is unstable; I have diary after diary of all the constant breaches of orders and still, nothing ever comes of it. 

In our last Family Court appearance, the judge ordered our son to have his own Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) and again another Family Court report was written.

This time the Family Court report writer came to my house and said to me, “Why don’t you just get a nanny while you're away, since you can afford it?" I told her it wasn't about the nanny, but that our son's dad won’t allow anyone else to care for our son. His controlling coercive behaviour makes it so hard to co-parent with him.

The Family Court writer made him out to be such a great dad, even though I had all these concerns. She advised in her report that he should be allowed to have our son on a regular basis despite all my concerns.

I was set to fly out to work the following week and my lawyer contacted me and said the ICL had asked my son's father for an alcohol biomarker test. The reading came back really high and our son’s safety was of priority, so I cancelled work and stayed home with him.

All along, I had been saying that eventually, he would harm our son. There was an incident, weeks prior, where his dad threw a cigarette lighter at our son’s head and cut it — our son had confided in a teacher at school, who rang me over concerns for our son’s safety, but, once again, nothing was done.

We had mediation and the lawyers agreed that our son would go to the farm with his dad's parents and they would supervise him from Friday to Monday. I was not happy with it but I knew our son had to have a relationship with his dad, so he went. Interim orders were made and he was to be supervised.

Just recently, our son confided in me that his dad was watching porn with him in bed and masturbating next to him — he told him to look away. I felt so sick; I knew our son had been subjected to sexual abuse from his behaviour and the things he acted out. 

I rang a child protection service and was advised someone could interview our son but did not know if he would talk. I was asked if our son sees his dad and I said: "Yes, supervised by his dad's mother from Friday to Monday". The person I was speaking to, replied: “That’s a bit biased, don’t you think?" To which I agreed. The police advised that it is hard to capture such abuse unless there are visible markings. 

I called my lawyer and explained to her what our son had told me and she told me to withhold him due to safety reasons. He has been in my care since and I have been juggling work in the meantime. 

I've just been to Court and even though our son's father has all these allegations against him and his carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) test results show him still drinking and his drug tests came back diluted, our son still gets to go into his care from Friday to Monday. 

I am advised I now have to go to trial, I have no money and the barrister is going to charge me $35,000 to represent me. I have to call all witnesses for my case. How do you win against such an unjust system? How do you explain that you are being coercively controlled when no one is listening? Years and years of abuse, I have suffered.

I am broken. I am a strong mum, but when no one is listening, when no one is looking at the facts and evidence, it makes you feel as though the system has let you down.

I do not have the money for a four-day trial. My son's parents and he come from a lot of money. Me — I’m just a mother who is trying to protect our son from abuse.

No names have been mentioned in this article as there is a case set for trial in the Federal Court.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual and/or domestic violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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