Silenced by the system
Fathers have a right to see their children. Children have a right to be protected. Everyone has a right to be heard.
Actually – no they don’t.
And this is the key point a much talked-about international custody battle, being played out in the courts and in the media, is about to contest.
The children’s great aunt has challenged the High Court in a bid to overturn a section of the Family Law Act that prevents children receiving independent legal representation unless there are "exceptional circumstances".
Tony Morris QC is supporting the move which will finally give children caught up in complicated custody battles a voice.
"This decision, when the High Court hands it down, will set in stone for all time the rights of children to be treated as human beings, and not just the goods and chattels of their parents," Mr Morris said last week.
In the face of the media attention the case has generated, Attorney General Nicola Roxon has announced a $500,000 study into the effectiveness of appointing independent children's lawyers.
The case has resulted in the children’s father releasing a letter that has tugged at the heartstrings. The pleading of the children, who allegedly want to stay with their mother, has sparked an outcry.
The allegations of lies, deception, abuse and violence have confused the matter further. The only obvious truth is that no one knows the truth. At least not any parties aside from those at the centre of it.
In Queensland our courts offer mediation and in difficult, messy, somewhat hopeless custody disputes a Family Report is intended to provide an impartial, professional dissection of family dynamics, dysfunctionality (if it exists), ulterior motives, and family politics.
This concept goes half way to offering a voice to the children, in so much as the report is presented to the court outlining what is best for the children, how their time should be divided between parents and how they are coping emotionally and psychologically with separation.
What this report negates is the need for children to speak in person, face to face to a magistrate or in the presence of the court. This process is considered too traumatic and unnecessary.
However, it also leaves some children feeling helpless, unheard and powerless in the decision making process that shapes their very future.
There is a gaping silence that exists in our family law courts and it must be addressed.