Editor Note: The below article appeared recently in the Daily Telegraph, but is oddly naive to the new family violence bill, which is probably only days away from being passed by the federal Senate. This bill, when it becomes law, will re-define family violence to include anything that can be subjectively alleged to have caused harm, without the need of objective proof.
This categorically includes emotional violence, but given that the standard of proof has been significantly lowered, it will also include raising of voices, slamming of phones, using profanity and swearing, delusional allegations, confused feelings, dreams, unreasonable anxiety and apprehension, the misunderstanding of language (and body language), and malicious and knowingly false allegations.
All of the above will be considered a form of family abuse, as per the family violence bill, and the family court, will no doubt, as per its robust tradition and as instructed by the federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland, ensure that the decision of who did what will follow strict gender lines, in other words, when in doubt, always blame the Male.
Ironically, the unjustified witholding of a child from the father (as in most cases), or the alienation of the child against the father, will no longer be considered a form of abuse, as per the instructions of the Gillard government who have removed penalties against Parental Alienation from the family law act, as well as removing penalties against the making of knowingly false allegations.
The Family Court probably has no choice but to include a greater appreciation and understanding of emotional violence in its rulings, but that plainly doesn’t mean such a course will be easy.
For obvious reasons, Family Court disputes are among the most complicated dealt with by the Australian judicial system.
These cases are invariably rife with emotional complexities even before they arrive in the court, which adds yet more difficulties.
The tasks of judges in these instances are not to be envied.
And matters may be set for yet more difficulties, with moves to consider at greater length the roles of emotional abuse, intimidation and using earnings as a weapon in settling child custody disputes.
Nobody disputes that emotional abuse is an important issue and can be extraordinarily destructive in a relationship.
It is indeed possible to agree that in many cases emotional abuse may even be more harmful than physical abuse. The problem comes when such matters are brought before a court and subject to claims of proof. While physical evidence of abuse is relatively obvious and may be easily traced to a cause, emotional abuse is, by its very nature, concealed.
This makes it at once extremely damaging but also far more difficult to prove.
There are also issues of precedent that could well emerge. If it is established in one case that a certain pattern of behaviour amounted to abuse, then it is likely that subsequent trials will follow that precedent – even if a claimant’s level of trauma in response to similar behaviour is completely different.
The Family Court probably has no choice but to include a greater appreciation and understanding of emotional violence in its rulings, but that plainly doesn’t mean such a course will be easy. The court and its judges will be working even harder under these new structures than ever before.