Too many children harmed by family courts, says Senator

Tens of thousands of Australian children are being harmed, and many will spend this Christmas without one of their parents and other family members, as a direct result of our harmful, adversarial family court system. This is one of the conclusions of the new “Children in Crisis” report just released by the Family Law Reform Coalition.

“We urgently need to reform the system,” said Senator Madigan, speaking after the launch of the ‘Children in Crisis’ report at Parliament House, Canberra. “Too many families, too many children, are being deeply harmed by the current system. It’s slow, unaffordable and divisive. That’s no way to deal with the trauma of family separation.”

Recent announcements reveal that Australia’s family courts are themselves in crisis: head of Australia’s Family Court, Chief Justice Bryant, who said on her 2004 appointment that “her top aim is to win public respect for the court”, recently took the unusual step of going public with her plea for an extra $17 million; while Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, John Pascoe, is said this past week to have been “seriously considering” closing the Court registries in Parramatta and Wollongong.

“The solution is not simply to give our family courts more money,” said Dr David Curl, spokesman for the Family Law Reform Coalition. “All that will do is ensure that our children are traumatised for perhaps 1½ years instead of 2 or 3. Many children will still be left in abusive environments for extended periods, and many more will still be wrongly forced to lose the genuine connection with a loving parent, often with half of their entire family, that is so important to their lives and to their well-being.”

“The current system is unsustainable; its financial, and human, costs are unacceptable. We need a new system, such as a national Family Commission, that’s not adversarial and that provides quick, affordable solutions for the majority of families – with a proper Court to back that up swiftly where there is genuine abuse or domestic violence or a failure to abide by its rulings.”

Independent Senators John Madigan, Bob Day, Ricky Muir, Zhenya Wang, David Leyonhjelm, Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie joined forces to co-sign a motion for the Senate’s final sitting day before Christmas, calling on the Government “to undertake a root-and-branch review of the family law system” and to create a new system that’s not adversarial and has a genuine focus on the welfare of children.

Both the Senators and the Family Law Reform Coalition highlighted the fact that, 12 years on, the key recommendation of the government’s own 2003 report “Every Picture Tells a Story” – that a non-adversarial system was essential for the best interests of children – had not been implemented by successive governments.

New studies since then have consistently shown the critical importance of children being able to maintain proper relationships with both of their parents after separation in the vast majority of families. And, in one of the largest investigations ever conducted into the relationship between childhood trauma and future health and well-being, the US Centre for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, has shown how children subjected to extreme trauma, such as that of an adversarial family separation, have a higher lifetime risk of both mental and physical illness, as well as self-harm and suicide.

“If we don’t start to take care of the mental health of our children exposed to family separation, the cost to society is going to be catastrophic,” said Jasmin Newman, member of the Family Law Reform Coalition’s Advisory Council.

“Our family courts are supposed to be looking after ‘the best interests’ of children,” said Dr Curl. “But instead they’re leaving, in their wake, a trail of children and parents whose lives have been ruined; a litany of bankruptcies and suicides; and thousands of children who will not be sharing Christmas this year with a parent who loves them.”


The Family Law Reform Coalition is an Australia-wide association of groups and individuals working towards major family law reform in Australia and throughout the world. For further information, or for a copy of the “Children in Crisis” paper, see:

For information on Senator Madigan’s campaign for family law reform, see:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *