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By Emily Clark and Heidi Davoren
Australian children are being placed in harm’s way by the legal structure designed to determine their best interests — the family law system.
James* says the earliest memories of his childhood involve being sexually and physically abused by his father.
Also etched into his memory are the occasions he tried to tell someone what was going on and the system that didn’t believe him.
James told his mother about the alleged abuse and it was reported to the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) and police, but in Family Court the allegations were found to be malicious and his father was awarded sole custody.
From the age of four to 13, James was the subject of proceedings in the Family Court as his mother fought to get her son back.
Now 19, James can speak for himself about how decisions made in his best interest impacted his life.
“I never in my entire life ever said I would like to live with my dad. I’ve always been against that,” he said.
“I was so scared back then to even talk about the sexual abuse with the counsellor in court. I don’t trust that person.”
When he was six years old, a Family Court judge ordered James to live with his father. He was allowed to see his mother for contact visits every second weekend.
When in his mother’s care, James said he spent the time checking the clock, watching the hours tick away.
Soon he would be taken back to his father’s — a place he described as “hell on Earth”.