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Violence and deception in the family court

14 January 2013

Jalesi Nakarawa

Family court study: PhD student Jalesi Nakarawa will look at the role of violence and deception that is the reality of family court proceedings.

University of Waikato PhD student Jalesi Nakarawa has received a $25,000 Auckland Medical Aid Trust Scholarship to complete his research into violence and deception in the family court.

Jalesi’s PhD looks at the role of violence and deception that is the reality of family court proceedings.

Looking at current family court legal frameworks

He argues that aggression and deception are two fundamental traits of human nature, but current family court legal frameworks treat aggression, lying and deception as sickness or immoral behaviour.

“Family court reforms should proceed from the premise that these traits are part of human nature. The family court is merely an extension of the arena where these traits are played out and in which legal fiction affords some degree of legitimacy to deception.”

He argues that deception is not easily discernible and defendants, victims, lawyers, judges and court psychologists all inadvertently lend to the deception in family court proceedings.

“When I started looking at family court cases I noticed that some judges don’t apply the law ensuring the best interest of the child and the protection of victims when dealing with domestic violence. Instead they rule on what they reason the law infers supported by theories like ‘parental alienation’ and ‘typologies of violence’ which on the whole plays against the interests of women and children.

A discrepancy in the law

“There is a discrepancy in what the law dictates the outcome should be with some judgements being handed down in the family court,” says Jalesi.

“These judges are fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters with personal perceptions of family relationship that at times sway their deliberation. Likewise court assessments by psychologists are often designed for courtroom expediency employing language and diagnostic labelling that is not only misdirected and often damaging, but also clinically suspect."

To complete his research Jalesi will look at a number of New Zealand family court proceedings and use a theoretical framework to examine how domestic violence and deception play a decisive role in the outcomes. The results will then be compared to similar cases in Australia and the United Kingdom.

The Auckland Medical Aid Trust Scholarship provides funds for individuals to undertake research towards a doctoral degree at a New Zealand university.