Abstract: Prior to separation, parents have a shared destiny and shared outcomes in relation to their lives and their child. After separation, parents shared destiny alters considerably, however due to the existence of a child, still exists within a co-parenting context. In the first year or two following separation, the majority of parents are able to work through their anger, grief, and loss, and transition to new post separation roles. However, there remains approximately 10 to 15% of separated parents who remain entrenched in long-term conflict. These parents’ post separation relationship was the focus of this thesis.
Stage 1 examined the four conflict behaviours of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling within entrenched co-parental conflict using dyadic analysis. Stonewalling was the primary conflict behaviour evident in entrenched co-parental conflict. Findings indicated that children from separated families can experience subtle, yet significant, long-term distress when their parents are unable, or unwilling, to effectively negotiate and communicate after they separate.
Stage 2 broadly explored mothers and fathers in family violence, or conflict past two years post separation, and their experiences within the Australian family law system. Drawing on interviews with separated parents from same-sex and other-sex relationships, Stage 2 revealed findings within the four contexts of hate, cognitive dissonance, the Australian family law system, and the aftermath for women and children.
If it was thought that the story of family violence is over told within Australia, for this sample’s separated parents and their children, the story is yet to be told. By associating mothers and fathers’ voices with broader social tensions within the Australian family law system, findings illuminated the complexity of their experiences. Despite the Australian family law system’s central role being to identify and respond to family violence and child abuse, this thesis shows that the system might not at present recognise the reality of family violence.
Overall this thesis further broadened the post separation picture in Australia by providing a window into the aftermath for women and children in family violence. What is often unacknowledged, unknown and hence, invisible in these mothers’ experiences, is that family violence continues for many years after the controlling or violent relationship is left. Despite positives within mothers’ experiences, the reality was that mothers’ situations resulted in social isolation, that ensured their experiences remained tightly wrapped up in silence and trauma. After leaving family violence, these women and their children’s encounters within the Australian family law system did not empower them, but left them open to ongoing violence, coercion, conflict, or abuse.
Bio: Leanne graduated from Southern Cross University in 1999 with an Associate Degree in Law. In 2014 she graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast with a Bachelor of Social Science (Psych) and Bachelor of Social Science (Psych)(Hons). Leanne’s Honours degree had two papers accepted for publication in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage and Family Law Review. In 2016 Leanne embarked on her PhD. Her thesis has thus far has had three papers accepted for publication, two in the Journal of Child Custody, and one in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Leanne has previously worked and volunteered in community mental health, crisis support, and as a children’s counsellor, and is currently the State Adviser for Children, Youth, and Families for the National Council of Women Queensland.