Monday, May 11, 2009

IN OZ ~ Family abuse rules in dispute

Caroline Overington | May 11, 2009

Article from: The Australian

WOMEN who tie up the Family Court with false allegations of sexual abuse of their children should be required to pay all the associated court costs, according to the Shared Parenting Council of Australia.

The council, which represents many separated fathers, says mothers have for too long kept children away from their partners by alleging sex abuse.

Courts tend to take a cautious approach when abuse is alleged, and contact between fathers and children is restricted or supervised while abuse is investigated.

The law was changed in 2006 to make it possible for judges to award costs against women who made false allegations, to stop them tying up the court's time and the father's resources.

But the court's Chief Justice, Diana Bryant, wrote two weeks ago to Attorney-General Robert McClelland, asking for "urgent consideration" on repealing the changes. There is concern among lawyers that women have become anxious about raising genuine concerns about abuse of their children for fear of being lumped with legal costs.

The Shared Parenting Council says there is no evidence that "any harm at all" is being done to women, and that repealing the law will "reopen the floodgates to increased perjury and false allegations". "Surely the Chief Justice couldn't be condoning the re-establishment of a penalty-free process for one parent to make false and malicious allegations against the other?"

The number of false allegations is thought to be small but there are cases where judges believed it to have occurred.

In April, for example, in a case known as Dalziel and Belladonna, a judge sent a five-year-old girl to live with her father, saying there was no evidence he had abused his daughter.

Until the child is 10, the father is permitted to read the mother's emails and letters to her. The mother is not allowed to take the child to psychiatrists, psychologists or doctors to see if she is being abused by the father, as she had been doing.

The father told the court he believed the mother was coaching the child to make disclosures of abusive behaviour by him as part of a strategy to ensure he played no role in her life.

The mother told the court the father's "plausible and pleasant presentation hides a violent and psychiatrically disturbed man who has managed to hoodwink" judges, counsellors, magistrates and independent child lawyers".

"It would not be unfair to call the mother a woman with a mission. She made it clear that her task was to protect (her daughter) from abuse at the hands of the father and she could do nothing but focus on that task," the judge said.

"If she is perceived as uncompromising, that is a price she has to pay to protect her daughter."

But, he said, the court "could have no confidence in the mother's commitment to tell the truth and it must find that she was prepared to do and say whatever she thought necessary to convince the court of the case she sought to make".

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