Silent and invisible – The family court failing to uphold our right to be heard

Written by a member of our Youth Council.

When I was six my parents sat my younger sister and I down in front of our fireplace and told us they were going to separate. They explained that this meant they would live in different houses and that they weren’t “in love” with each other anymore, but they still loved my sister and I very much. As a six-year-old, all of that was a bit confusing and I didn’t fully understand what my future was going to look like. I was a mixture of sad, angry and scared but I had to stay strong for my four-year-old sister who had no idea what was going on.

Although all of that was hard, one of the hardest things about divorce is the family court. Nobody fully explained what was ACTUALLY happening inside that courtroom, something that my six year old self desperately wanted to know. All I knew was that my mum and dad were very angry with each other, and their lawyers kept sending letters that made them angrier. The only resources  available to me were picture books that repeated the phrase “your parents still love you”, and for me, that wasn’t very helpful. The thing that annoyed me the most was that none of the picture books told me what was happening in the courts and how they make their decisions.

During the court proceedings I felt helpless. Every part of my life was being decided on without my input. I would be sent off to stay at friend’s houses while my parents went to the city for the night. It was an isolating and confusing experience that left me wondering what was actually happening. I’ve observed more and more of my friends go through similar experiences and court proceedings, and while every experience is slightly different, none of them have been as positive as they could have been without proper information and support. It seems these systems don’t exist.

As the years have passed, I can see the different ways these court experiences have affected my friends and I.  Something that happened to us all is that none of us had a say, and that this process hurt us. Had we been allowed to give statements about what we wanted to the court, we would have felt less helpless and detached from the decision-making process.

In hindsight, I believe that if this choice had been given to me, separate from the advice of the family therapist who my sister and I had never met before, many changes may have been made to the court’s final decision and my overall experience.

The family court process is an isolating and detached experience and it needs to consider the welfare of all young people involved in its proceedings, all of whom didn’t choose to be there. For a court that aims to act in the best interests of children, more support and information is needed for them. This should be done in a way that’s inclusive of all children and gives them more opportunities to be heard.