Children, contact and domestic abuse
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In recent years the issue of children’s contact with non-resident parents has been increasingly debated. The policy gaze has focused on contested contact when there are allegations of domestic abuse. Some commentators argue that in circumstances of domestic abuse, contact with an abusive father may not be in the ‘best interests’ of the child. To support these claims they point to evidence that domestic abuse adversely affects children, and domestic abuse often continues following separation. Children’s views of contact in circumstances of domestic abuse remain underresearched, as such their views on this issue have been missing from policy debates. The research aims to uncover how children view and experience contact with nonresident fathers when in the context of domestic abuse. A qualitative methodology was developed for the research. In-depth interviews were carried out with both children and their mothers. The findings confirm that conceptualisations of domestic abuse that focus on discrete acts or incidents of violence do not correspond with children’s and mother’s accounts of abuse. Domestic abuse was a constant in the lives of children and mothers. Children were exposed to domestic abuse before and following parental separation. The research uncovers the complex negotiations children make when family relationships are characterised by abuse. Children identified domestic abuse as a core issue when forming views about contact with their fathers. They tried to make sense of and developed their own analysis of their fathers’ abuse and strategies to cope with it. Children also highlighted a range of issues beyond domestic abuse that influenced their views about contact. The role children should have in disputes about contact in is contested. Children may be considered incompetent to form a view or their views are constructed as a product of parental manipulation. The research provides insights into children’s experiences of participating in contact disputes. It points to limitations in current Scottish legal mechanisms that are designed to take children’s views into account and questions the respect afforded to children’s participation in disputes. The thesis concludes by highlighting the theoretical, policy and practice implications that result from this research.