Domestic violence at the time of parental separation

by Kate Marr on April 17, 2012

Kate Marr, Family LawyerThe Sydney Morning Herald on 4th February 2012 published an article by Adele Horin entitled “Revenge and despair place children at risk”   which refers to Debbie Kirkwood’s study “Just Say Goodbye.”  Dr Kirkwood ,who is the research officer at the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Victoria, asks the question: why are some children intentionally murdered by their parents at the time of parental separation?  Dr Kirkwood argues that men and women are equally capable of killing children, but the motives for killing are very different. Men are more likely to kill their children in order to take revenge on ex-partners and make them suffer, whereas women are more likely to kill because they intend to kill themselves and can’t imagine leaving their children without a mother. The statistics are alarming- between 1997 and 2008 there were 110 child murders committed by fathers or stepfathers and 106 by mothers (none by stepmothers).

What I think is really interesting is that in Dr Kirkwood’s opinion as reported by Adele Horin,  blame is not to be found in the  Family Court system’s approach to the apportionment of time between parents, even though the Farquharson and  Freeman children were murdered whilst  spending time with their  Father, as permitted by Court Orders.  Farquharson was found guilty of murdering his sons, Jai, Tyler and Bailey, when he plunged his car into a dam on Father’s Day in 2005, and Freeman murdered his daughter Darcey on the way to what was meant to be her first day of school. Darcey died at the bottom of Melbourne’s West Gate bridge.

Dr Kirkwood: “There is no logic to thinking that if fathers feel they don’t spend enough time with their children, they would kill them.” But Dr Kirkwood does suggest that prior contact with police, the courts, mental health services or men’s behaviour change programs may be relevant.

If you are separating and have concerns regarding the mental stability, history or the propensity for violence  of the other parent, then you must seriously consider raising your concerns, even if they seem trivial or unwarranted to you,  because often to a qualified expert they will be given a different interpretation. The law is there and it exists to protect you and your children; it is just a question of engaging the law.

Separation and its aftermath are times of great stress for everyone involved, and we think that there is a case to be put to the Minister for Health for greater funding for research into these most tragic crimes. Please feel free to show your support for that idea by posting your argument in response to this blog.

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