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Can Family Law Protect Young Children?

  • Freda Briggs (a1) and Elspeth McInnes (a1)

When young children tell their mothers that they are being sexually abused by their father, the mother faces a dilemma; if she does nothing, state child protection services can remove her children as being in need of care and protection. If police are called, she is likely to be told to leave the family home to keep her children safe. If she does, the father is likely to turn to the federal family law system1 to seek time with the children. If the mother seeks an order for supervised, or no further contact with the child to protect them from abuse, she may lose residence of the child and the child may be ordered to live with the abusing parent.

Corresponding author
address for correspondence: Dr Freda Briggs AO, Emeritus Professor in Child Development, University of South Australia, Magill Campus, SA 5072 Email:
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Brown T., Frederico M., Hewitt L., & Sheehan R. (1998). Violence in Families Report Number One: The management of child abuse allegations in custody and access disputes before the Family Court of Australia, Monash University Clayton, The Family Violence and Family Court Research Program Monash University Clayton and the Australian Catholic University, Canberra.
Brown T., Frederico M., Hewitt L., & Sheehan R. (2001). The child abuse and divorce Myth. Child Abuse Review, 10, 113124.
Brown T., Sheehan R., Frederico M., & Hewitt L. (2001). Resolving family violence to children: The evaluation of Project Magellan, a pilot project for managing Family Court residence and contact disputes when allegations of child abuse have been made. The Family Violence and Family Court Research Program, Monash University Clayton, Melbourne, Australia.
Eastwood C., & Patton W. (2002). The experiences of child complainants of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system, Brisbane, Australia: Queensland University of Technology.
Eastwood C., Patton W., & Stacy H. (1998). Child sexual abuse and the criminal justice system. In Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 99. Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Criminology.
McDonald M. (1998). The myth of epidemic false allegations of sexual abuse in divorce cases. American Judges Association Court Review, Spring Issue, 12–19. Retrieved from http//
McInnes E. (2011). Madness in family law: Competing discourses on mothers' mental health in the Australian family law system. Paper presented at the 12th International Mental Health Conference, Gold Coast, Australia, August 24–26.
Smith B. (2009, February 5). Grief-stricken family's tribute to Darcey Freeman. The Age.
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Children Australia
  • ISSN: 1035-0772
  • EISSN: 2049-7776
  • URL: /core/journals/children-australia
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