Leanne Francia is a PhD Candidate in psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Leanne’s focus is on family violence and conflict following separation and its impact on parent-child relationships and child adjustment and wellbeing. Leanne has worked in legal and child related-fields and remains committed to research that ensures children and families are supported following separation.
Missing What Matters? Separated Parents’ Experiences of Family Violence and the Australian Family Law System
This qualitative study explored the experiences of separated mothers and fathers (N=40) in situations of family violence, or high conflict that continued past two years post separation, and their experiences within the Australian family law system. Findings from parents’ experiences revealed five themes: gendered narratives; parents’ concerns not been taken seriously; a disconnect between State child protection and family violence services and Federal family law services; perceived inadequacies in knowledge of experts and decision makers relating to family violence; and coercion from some professionals within the system. Separated parents reported needing understanding, long-term support, and a continuum of investigative and therapeutic service responses that addressed safety, accountability, and early intervention. This research suggests is not safe for service providers to assume that the complex issues impacting these families and their children are being dealt with elsewhere in the system. Cumulative experiences tentatively led to an aftermath of long-term trauma, not only for parents, but children in their care. Parents reported children as experiencing PTSD, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, poor peer relationships and difficulties at school. In the aftermath, this research suggested that, due to their involvement in the family law system and the nature of the co-parenting relationship, that rather than being injuncted, ordered or otherwise prevented from obtaining needs-orientated support, that these vulnerable children would have improved outcomes from early access to, and long-term involvement in, needs-orientated support services. Specialist services in family violence, when able to be accessed, were reported as being effective and beneficial.