Thursday, May 5, 2011

Madness in Family Law: Competing Discourses on Mothers' Mental Health in the Australian Family Law system

Dr Elspeth McInnes
Mental illness stalks Australia's family law system. Not only do people with mental health problems have higher rates of relationship breakdown, the concept of mental illness plays out in gendered decisions around children's matters, where mothers are much more likely than fathers to be labelled mentally ill and lose care of their children.

Australia's family law system currently applies two primary principles to children's matters in family law - children's right to a meaningful relationship with both parents and children's right to safety from exposure to violence or abuse. When mothers leave abusive fathers, the law ordinarily requires the children to spend time with both parents, with the result that many children are exposed to continuing violence and abuse. This is itself a major risk to children's mental health and development.

When mothers raise allegations of child abuse they risk being labelled mentally ill by family law experts and losing care of the children by order of the court. Consequently the majority of mothers whose children tell them they are being abused during contact with their father, and whose allegations are disbelieved by the court, learn to comply with contact arrangements regardless of their children's disclosures, distress and behaviour, to avoid losing care of the children. This has severe adverse consequences for the mental health of mothers as well as the children.

The resulting paradox is that mothers of abused children who attempt to stop the abuse are labelled 'mad' and lose their children, or are driven into mental illness by being unable to protect their children.

Dr Elspeth McInnes, Senior Lecturer, University of SA

The 12th International Mental Health Conference 2011
Personality Disorders: Out of the Darkness

Radisson Resort, Gold Coast - Wednesday 24th August – Friday 26th August 2011.

1 comment:

  1. My name is Phil Travers, i work for DC's Child and Family Services (CFSA). Nationally, approximately 70% children and adolescents in need of treatment do not receive mental health services. The child mental health system is fragmented and it is often quite difficult for children to get the treatment they need. Children with mental health problems receive services through a complicated variety of agencies and providers.

    Children’s mental health is essential to children’s overall health, development, and ability to learn. It is vital that the law places a greater importance on protecting the mental health of the child.In the USA we have serious problems, so I hope that Australia can avoid going down the same path.

    I attended the conference on the Gold Coast and was highly impressed by the time and energy being invested into getting the system right.