October 14, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
If Jess Hill’s screed in The Guardian weren’t dated October 2, 2019, I’d have guessed it was a blast from the distant past – the mid-90s, perhaps (Guardian, 10/2/19). That’s because it traffics in the same frankly false and misleading sorts of claims and the virulent misandry that we so often saw back then regarding fathers, children and child custody. It’s astonishing to read such nonsense in 2019.
As I reported in my last piece, Hill was spurred to write the article by the Australian government’s announcement that it’s going to review child custody laws. The latest such review was so badly done, so obviously biased and so clearly at odds with known facts and science that it richly deserves to be replaced. But that upcoming replacement is what has Hill in a lather. The nut of her article is that Australian family courts routinely give custody of children (or at least access) to abusive fathers.
Since numbered lists of things have long been the rage, here are six things we can “learn” from Hill’s Guardian piece:1.Men perpetrate domestic violence and women don’t.
Throughout her article, Hill invariably refers to perpetrators as men and victims as women. And that’s not just the case with the Guardian piece. Hill’s written a lot about DV and it’s always the same. Nowhere does she cite any data for the proposition of course since all the reliable information on DV shows women making up at least 50% of those who initiate family violence. Indeed, source after source tells us that lesbian relationships are the most prone to violence of all, but those facts don’t fit Hill’s narrative, so they don’t appear in her article.2. Fathers abuse children and mothers don’t.
See #1 above. Australia appears not to rigorously keep data on who harms children, but in the U.S., mothers commit twice the abuse and neglect of kids as do fathers and I suspect the numbers in Australia aren’t that much different. The U.S. Administration for Families and Children has accumulated data from state child welfare agencies for decades now and the data are quite consistent: about 40% of child abuse and neglect is committed by mothers and about 20% by fathers. Needless to say, Hill offers no justification for painting fathers as abusers and mothers as always protective.3. Domestic violence is violence.
Sometimes it is of course, but often it’s not. Even Hill admits that, in 2012, the Australian government “expanded the definition of domestic violence.” It didn’t need to, given that the “definition” at the time included almost anything of a conflictual nature that could occur between intimate partners, but it did anyway. Back in 2015, I reported on an article by an Australian family lawyer bemoaning, among other things, the ridiculously expansive legal notion of DV. Here’s what the barrister said about that:
In any event, the act defines family violence so widely, it includes the sort of friction that occurs occasionally in even the happiest family: heated argument, raised voices, the silent treatment. I've seen an application succeed where the husband criticised his wife's cooking and (on a separate occasion) slammed a door. You can always find something a man's done wrong.
Of course Hill doesn’t let on that much of what she calls domestic violence, that she considers worthy of denying a child contact with its father looks like the above – a snide remark about a meal, a slammed door.4. All allegations of DV made by mothers are true.
Nowhere does Hill admit of the possibility that litigants in child custody hearings sometimes fabricate claims of DV in order to gain an advantage over the other parent. For decades, in countries throughout the English-speaking world, this has been a known fact. Lawyers in the U.S. for example have, since at least the mid-90s, been alternately complaining about the use of false allegations and, well, using them on behalf of their clients. As the Australian barrister referred to above recounted, the same is true there. Hill admits that some 43% of Australians report that mothers often assert false claims of DV in order to improve their chances at child custody, but weirdly, she presents that not to condemn the court system for allowing those false allegations, but to suggest that, in some way, the public has it all wrong.5. Australian courts routinely discount mothers’ claims of DV.
And yet our friend the barrister tells a wholly different story, one in which fathers are tossed out of their homes and families solely on the say-so of their partners.
My client Tom* was at work when the police turned up. They served him with an intervention order, took him home and told him to pack a suitcase. If he returned home, or contacted his wife or children, he'd be facing two years' jail. He'd had no inkling this was coming.
The order was an interim one, granted ex parte. That means the court issued it in his absence, having heard only his wife's side of the story.
Meanwhile, making a claim of DV is the easiest thing in Australian law, but getting the no-contact order overturned is like pulling teeth.
In theory, Tom could go to court and argue his case, but a hearing date was months away...
Another client of mine, for example, was subject to an interim order for a year before the application against him was dismissed. And that took nine separate court appearances…
Just in case that wasn’t already clear, the system makes it more so. It does that by charging targets of DV claims hefty sums to defend the allegations while making them is free to the claimant.
Indeed, the ease of applying for an order itself creates problems. Most litigation incurs some cost in getting the ball rolling. Not so for an intervention order, where there's no stamp duty or filing fee…
Not only do courts accept claims of DV, even when they shouldn’t, the very act of asserting one is simplicity itself while proving the assertion wrong takes months or years, thousands of dollars and unimaginable heartache. But for Jess Hill, that amazing power on the part of mothers isn’t enough.6. Parental alienation is ‘junk science.’
Hill tosses off that claim in passing, apparently wanting readers to believe that it is so obviously true that it needs no factual support. The reality is that it’s so completely at odds with the scientific truth that Hill has nothing to back up her patently untrue claim. In truth, evidence of parental alienation is routinely accepted by courts under the stringent Daubert standard for admissibility. The fact is that hundreds of mental health researchers around the world have been investigating and writing about PA since the 1950s (although it wasn’t called PA until much later). There’s now a huge body of science on parental alienation that opponents of children having real relationships with their fathers never get around to mentioning, much less refuting. Of course, Jess Hill is one such opponent.
Hill’s piece is so frankly bad that it warrants one more post to describe. I’ll do that next time.