A huge thank you to everyone who attended our conference on Child arrangements and domestic violence: protecting women and children in the Family Court on 8th October 2015.
We started the day by launching our new publication, Child arrangements and domestic violence: a handbook for women, which is an essential and practical resource for women without a lawyer who are involved in child arrangements proceedings. Professionals who support women affected by domestic violence will also find this handbook a useful tool to help women through child arrangements cases. Order your copy here
Our keynote speaker, Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice congratulated Rights of Women on our 40th anniversary. She thanked all the organisations represented in the audience for the work that they do, assured us that she was “in listening mode” and committed to meeting with us to discuss the issues raised at the conference.
Our patron, Denise Robertson MBE, spoke passionately about the number of women who still contact her for advice on domestic violence and child contact and the fact that “in the family courts, women are routinely left baffled”. She stressed how important it is for organisations like Rights of Women to provide information and advice, saying “the informed woman is a strong woman”.
Guardian columnist Annalisa Barbieri, also a patron of Rights of Women, chaired a discussion on women’s experiences of family justice. A survivor of domestic violence told us about her “sickening” experience of the Family Court. She gave examples of important and relevant evidence of the father’s violent behaviour and risk to the family being ignored by the judge. She, like so many other women, felt demonised and judged before the case had even started: “When I walked into court I immediately felt like I was on the back foot. I was another woman being unreasonable and causing trouble.” Clare Laxton of Women’s Aid told us that child arrangements is the number one issue being raised by their members at the moment. She spoke about the huge lack of understanding of coercive control amongst professionals in the family justice system. She talked about how perpetrators use child arrangement proceedings as a way to continue to exert control over mothers and the myth that the Family Court is biased towards mothers. Legal aid solicitor and trained IDVA, Sophia Raja, highlighted the lack of risk assessments being carried out in the Family Court, partly due to lack of funding for experts. She also spoke about women without lawyers, particularly migrant women, being taken advantage of because they do not know their rights or the law.
The day ended with a plenary session, reflecting on the workshops held throughout the day. The workshops focused on mediation, legal aid, women litigants in person and the courts’ approach to child arrangements where there is domestic violence. The number of challenges and failures raised by delegates was overwhelming. However, the workshops provided constructive ideas and possible solutions to ensure the safety of women and children in the family justice system. Rights of Women intends to take these forward in our ongoing policy and campaigning work.
Our Director, Emma Scott, closed the conference by quoting one of the workshop participants: “there is a need for a clear pathway” for survivors of domestic violence involved in child arrangements proceedings.