Why The Failures Of The Family Court Is Part Of My Field

Grant Wyeth
5 min readNov 24, 2020

Last week I published an article titled How The Family Court’s Purpose To Protect Children Became Inverted. The article sought to explain what has occurred in family courts throughout the West over the past three decades, and the ideas that are driving it to make consistently irrational and dangerous decisions.

In response, Joan Meier from George Washington University Law School — the primary U.S expert in the field — asked me how I came to be so knowledgeable on this subject matter. The obvious answer is through reading her work, and the work of her colleagues. These are the people who do the difficult empirical work, who understand the nuances of the issue intimately. My job, as someone who tries to make ideas publicly accessible, is relatively easy by comparison.

However, although my background isn’t in the law or even sociology, I believe the behaviour of the family court is also of critical importance for political science and international relations. Because at the core of both these fields is the behaviour of the state. How the state is influenced by ideas, and how it responds to these ideas.

This is why I framed the article as an “ideological conversion” of the family court. I set up two actors who were trying to shift the court’s behaviour, the way people try to shift the behaviour of a political party or a government. The first actor was the terrorist — Leonard Warwick — using a direct form of violence to try to alter the court’s behaviour. The second actor was the ideologue — Richard Gardner — who instead, successfully, has been able to alter the court’s behaviour with ideas.

The grand irony which the article implicitly tried to convey was that when the state finally arrested Warwick and punished him for his violence, it had already been converted by Gardner to the ideas about male domestic authority that motivated Warwick’s terrorism. The further irony being that Gardner through his ideological conversion of the court has undoubtedly perpetuated far more violence than Warwick.

The state saw fit to protect itself from Warwick’s violence, but it has not seen fit to protect itself from Gardner’s ideas. And this is where the behaviour of the family court intersects with international relations.

The issue here is one of a state protecting its resources and assets. It is fairly obvious that a state cannot perpetuate itself without mothers and children. If the state is actively hostile to these two groups, then the state is weakening the society it governs, and undermining this society’s future. This is especially important for states without large populations.

In my work for The Diplomat I focus on the publication’s Oceania section, which includes not just Australia and New Zealand, but the Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian regions. Also, I am currently based in Iceland, a distinct society to those of the Pacific, but one that has certain similarities due to also having only a small population.

Writing about these regions has given me a keen sense of the unique challenges small states face, how they require vigilance in guarding the resources that they have, but also — what I considered even more important — guarding against ideas that could undermine their existence. Parental alienation is an idea that small states should consider an existential threat. It is an idea that is mostly used to protect violent men from the consequences of their behaviour. Its successful ideological conversion of the family court means that small states now have a malignancy inside their justice systems that threatens their two most valuable resources; motherhood and children.

[I don’t want to make the argument that large states can afford to be infected by ideas like parental alienation, just that it is more vital for small states to guard against it]

This malignancy not only protects violence, it normalises it. This doesn’t just mean that courts will be occasionally making decisions that place children in dangerous environments, it means that the justice system will be facilitating the spread of violence. In a blunt calculation for the state; this will continue to drain public funds, as well as create a loss in productivity. But even more importantly, it will prevent the human flourishing required for a state to make the most of its population’s skills.

Or to put it another way, this spiralling of violence will damage people’s lives to the extent that will limit their ability to be happy and healthy members of society.

Whatever natural resources a state may have, or advantageous geography, their most important capability will always come from their people. This should give the state a keen desire to facilitate and harness human flourishing. Violence is a persistent inhibitor to human flourishing. As people from post-colonial states or other abused groups will tell you, violence leaves generational scars.

If the state’s ideal is to govern a society populated by high capability individuals, then it should take the damage wrought by domestic violence and child abuse incredibly seriously. Being infected with a radical ideology that seeks to protect perpetrators is an obvious case of the state allowing itself to undermine its own interests.

The state should understand domestic violence as an internal security threat. Its prevalence and persistence leaves significant sections of the population in permanent states of insecurity. Were this violence to come with a religious or political ideology then the state would deem it an extraordinary threat and respond to eliminate it. However, the state tolerates a misogynist (and misanthropist) ideology that protects and facilitates this violence. It tolerates it to the extent that it has actually embraced the ideology through its family courts.

So this is a brief explanation of why I think the behaviour of the family court should be taken very seriously by political scientists and international relations scholars. Or indeed, why it should be taken seriously by everyone. I think that if governments can understand how this institutional failure is a direct threat to the state’s interests then they would be far more likely to pursue reforms that could weed out this cancer and allow children to have happy and healthy childhoods.



Grant Wyeth

I am a Melbourne-based writer. I am a contributing author at The Diplomat and write a weekly newsletter for Australian Foreign Affairs. Twitter: @grantwyeth