Gold Coast murder-suicide reminds us there’s more to separation than legal issues

by Peter Magee on May 17, 2011

Peter MageeDays like today send a shiver through me. No doubt many family lawyers feel the same way.

The discovery of a couple murdered on the Gold Coast and a five year old girl missing, feared kidnapped, had the hallmarks of a desperate and tragic family breakdown. This morning’s confirmation that the body of Kayla Rogers and her father had also been discovered leaves me speechless.

The environment a family lawyer operates in is a cauldron of raw emotion. Our clients are usually in the midst of catastrophically life changing circumstances. Emotionally or financially and often both their world has fallen apart and they turn to us to fix it.

We can, but in such a limited way.

We are trained and, hopefully, skilled negotiators. We can identify legal issues and the parameters that exist to resolve them. We can provide our clients with advice about likely outcomes and alternative ways to achieve them other than going to court. I’d like to think that my clients take all of that into consideration when they give me their instructions.

But there’s the rub. Instructions don’t come from a vacuum. They come from the same person who walked into your office, or court, feeling scared, helpless, angry, vengeful or with a combination of toxic or tainted but very real emotions. Multiply that a thousand-fold when you’re dealing with a parenting dispute.

Our legal training does not endow us with a crystal ball to predict human behaviour. We have to rely on common sense. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had sleepless nights wondering if an adverse court outcome or damning allegations in an affidavit will give rise to another tragedy.

I cannot stress how critical your good mental health is to help address and resolve a family law dispute. A support network of family and friends is useful, but their perspective is usually unhelpfully biased.

A lawyer can give you legal objectivity while a counsellor or psychologist can give you emotional objectivity. That’s a valuable combination. To that end I urge anyone involved in a family law dispute to take advantage of the many counseling services available. Your GP can refer you to a trained psychologist under the GP Mental Health Plan and the emotional side of dealing with a relationship breakdown or a change in parenting arrangements is in well qualified hands.

There is no shame asking for help. In fact, it takes strength to realize you can’t deal with things alone.

When I was 12, I lost a school friend through a murder-suicide. They were a beautiful intact family with three children who, on the surface appeared to live a charmed life. Financial pressure somehow led the Father to the conclusion that killing his children, wife and mother then himself was the only solution.

It wasn’t then. It isn’t now.

There is support available and with services like Lifeline (13 11 14) it’s only a phone call away.

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