Child Indicators Research

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 707–723 | Cite as

How Children’s Voices Were Heard ‘Above the Din’ in Family Court Proceedings in Cases Where There Were Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: The Importance of Judicial Orientation and Professional Evidence in the Discernment of the Child’s Voice

  • Wendy L. Foote


This article examines how children’s voices can be heard in Family Court hearings when there are allegations of child sexual abuse. Using a case study approach, three judgements are examined to see how judicial determination centralised the information from and about children. In these three purposively selected cases the voices of children was identified from conflicting evidence presented by professional assessors and counsellors. These three cases were selected because of the primacy given to evidence that was presented from and about children. In these cases allegations were not assumed to be artifacts of a parental dispute, instead, the Judge who heard them worked actively to discern the child’s voice within the conflicting evidence. Further, these three cases were also distinguished by the range of evidence available that included family reports and assessments from professionals as a result of Court Orders, but also evidence from those who had ongoing involvement with the children in counseling roles. These counsellors were located outside the Family Court, in the child protection sector. The evidence from counsellors was preferred by the Judge as it provided a higher level of detail about the children and their allegations. The ‘voice of the child’ was constructed by the Judge in their interpretation of professional evidence.


Children’s voices Family law dispute Child sexual abuse allegations Expert evidence Judicial ‘child focus’ 


  1. Archard, D., & Skivenes, M. (2009). Balancing a child’s best interests and a child’s views. International Journal of a Children’s Rights, 17, 1–21.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Government (2007). The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (National Statement). (Accessed 29.08.11).
  3. Bala, N., & Schuman, J. (1999). Allegations of sexual abuse when parents have separated. Canadian Family Law Quarterly, 17, 192–243.Google Scholar
  4. Bala, N., Lee, K., Lindsay, R. C. L., & Talwar, V. (2010). The competency of children to testify: psychological research informing Canadian law reform. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 10, 53–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, T., Sheehan, R., Frederico, M., & Hewitt, R. (2000). Revealing the existence of child abuse in the context of marital breakdown and custody and access disputes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(6), 849–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bussey, K. (1995). Allegations of child sexual abuse: accurate and truthful disclosures, false allegations, and false denials. Current issues in Criminal Justice, 7(2), 176–192.Google Scholar
  7. Cashmore, J. (2011). Children’s participation in family law decision-making: theoretical approaches to understanding children’s view. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 515–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Charmaz, K. (2003). Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry (pp. 249–291). California: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Chisholm, R. (2009). Family Courts Violence Review. Australian Governments Attorney General’s Department. accessed 13.08.2010.
  10. Faller, K. C. (2005). False accusations of child maltreatment: a contested issue. Child Abuse and Neglect, 29, 1327–1331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Faller, K. C., Corwin, D. L., & Olafson, E. (1993). Research on false allegations of sexual abuse in divorce. American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, 6(3), 1–10.Google Scholar
  12. Family Law Council (2002). Family Law and child protection: Final Report. Commonwealth of Australia, AusInfo, GPO Box 1920, Canberra ACT 2601.Google Scholar
  13. Fernandez, E. (2011). Child inclusive research, policy and practice. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 487–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Foote, W. L. (2006). Child sexual assault in the family court. PhD dissertation Department of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  15. Freckelton, I., (2002). ‘Evaluating Parental alienation and child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome evidence’. Butterworths Family Law Journal, September, 57–66.Google Scholar
  16. Gardner, R. A. (1992). The parental alienation syndrome. New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics.Google Scholar
  17. Gardner, R. A. (2001). The normal-sexual-fantasy consideration in sex-abuse evaluations. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 29(2), 85–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goodman, G. S., & Bottoms, B. L. (Eds.). (1993). Child victims, child witnesses: understanding and improving testimony. London: The Guildford.Google Scholar
  19. Goodman, G. S., & Helgeson, V. S. (1985). Child Sexual assault: children’s memory and the law. University of Miami Law Review, 40, 181–208.Google Scholar
  20. Hart, A. S., & Bagshaw, D. (2008). The idealised post-separation family in Australian Family law: a dangerous paradigm in cases of domestic violence. Journal of Family Studies, 14(2–3), 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. USA: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  22. Hewitt, S. K. (1999). Assessing allegations of sexual abuse in preschool children: Understanding small voices. Thousand Oaks: IVPS Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Higgins, D., & Kaspiew, R. (2011). Child protection and family law: Joining the dots National Child Protection Clearing House, Issues No. 34. Melbourne: National Child Protection Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies. accessed 01.06. 2011
  24. Humphreys, C. (1999). Walking on egg shells: Child sexual assault allegations in the context of divorce. In J. Breckenridge & L. Laing (Eds.), Challenging silence: Innovative responses to sexual and domestic violence. Australia: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  25. Jaffe, P. G., Lemon, N. K. D., & Poisson, S. E. (2003). Child custody & domestic violence: A call for a safety and accountability. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Johnston, J. R., & Campbell, L. E. G. (1999). Impasses of divorce: The dynamics and resolution of family conflict. New York: Free. London: Collier Macmillan.Google Scholar
  27. Johnston, J. R., & Roseby, V. (1997). In the name of the child: A developmental approach to understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce. New York: The Free.Google Scholar
  28. Johnston, J. R., Lee, S., Olesen, N. W., & Walters, M. G. (2005). Allegations and substantiations of abuse in custody-disputing families. Family Court Review, 43(2), 283–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kelly, J. B., & Johnston, J. R. (2001). The alienated child: a reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), 249–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lee, S. M., & Olesen, N. W. (2001). Assessing for alienation in child custody and access evaluations. Family Court Review, 39(3), 282–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Neale, B., & Smart, C. (1998). Agents or Dependents?: Struggling to listen to children in family law and family research, Working Paper 3, Centre for Research on Family, Kinship & Childhood: University of Leeds.Google Scholar
  32. Ney, T. (1995). Assessing allegations in child sexual abuse: An overview. In T. Ney (Ed.), True and false allegations of child sexual abuse assessment and case management (pp. 3–20). New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  33. NSW Law Reform Commission (2010). Family Violence- A National Response. ALRC Report 114, NSWLRC Report 128. accessed 1.6.2011
  34. Parkinson, P., & Cashmore, J. (2008). The voice of the child in family law disputes. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Richards, L. (1999). Using NVivo in qualitative research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  37. Richie, J., & Lewis, J. (Eds.). (2003). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  38. Rhoades, H. (2008). Dangers of shared care legislation: why Australia needs (yet more) family law reform. The Federal Law Review, 36, 279–299.Google Scholar
  39. Russell, D. E. H. (1986). The secret trauma. N.Y.: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  40. Salter, A. (1988). Treating child sex offenders and victims. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Salter, A. (1994). Treating Child Sex Offender and their Victims, First National Conference on Child Sexual Abuse. Wednesday 16th March (transcript made by Cedar Cottage).Google Scholar
  42. Smart, C. (2000). ‘Divorce and changing family practices in a post-traditional society: moral decline or changes to moral practices?’. Family Matters, No. 56, Winter, pp. 10–19.Google Scholar
  43. Smart, C., & Neale, B. (2000). “It’s my life too”- children’s perspectives on post divorce parenting. Family Law, 30, 163–169.Google Scholar
  44. Summit, R. C. (1983). The child abuse accommodation syndrome. International Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect, 7, 177–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. United Nations (UN). (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accessed May 2010.
  46. Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1991). Sexual abuse allegations in divorce and custody disputes. Behavioural Sciences and the Law, 9, 451–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson, R. F. (2001). Children at risk: the sexual exploitation of female children after divorce. Cornell Law Review, 86, 251.Google Scholar
  48. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research design and methods (Fourth ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Science and International StudiesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations