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Why is it important to hear both sides of the story?

Issues - Autumn Edition 2023

Why is it important to hear both sides of the story?

Why is it important to hear both sides of the story? People see, hear and perceive things differently, especially under stress.

A friend of mine was run over by a car some years ago, as he was walking away from the court building. He was hit squarely by the front of the car, flew into the air, and landed in a garden bed.  There were six eyewitnesses who gave statements to the police. Three of them described the event the same way, two said my friend had managed to avoid being hit at all, and one vividly described him being hit and landing on the bonnet of a blue car parked nearby.

People see, hear and perceive things differently, especially under stress.

Relationship breakdowns are stressful, no matter how amicable they might seem. In the family law sphere, we routinely see good people at their worst, or most vulnerable, stressed, agitated, angry, or a combination of all of these.  When parties can’t reach agreement, family law proceedings will likely be the first time they have encountered litigation, lawyers and courts, about significant aspects of their lives – their children, their finances, their homes, and their future. 

Frequently, courts are faced with highly contradictory evidence.  In some cases, parties may intentionally misrepresent the truth, to achieve the outcome they desire.  But in many cases, honest people present differing accounts of the same events, long after they occurred.  In some cases, while neither party has deliberately given false evidence, at least one of them must be mistaken about various matters they now claim to remember. 

In almost all cases, the Court is confronted with evidence which reflects different perceptions of parties, and their witnesses.  While some parties will be convinced of their “truth”, and equally convinced that any evidence to the contrary must be untrue, the reality is much more complicated. 

Perceptions are subjective, and fallible, shaped by a range of factors including personal experiences, assumptions, insights, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, cognitive bias, emotional state, to name but a few.   It is important to recognise the limitations of individual perspectives, and to acknowledge that no single person has a complete understanding of an event or situation. 

Determining a child’s best interests is multifaceted and complex.   Different perspectives can help provide a more nuanced understanding of the family, and how conflicts have arisen.  Parents, other carers, teachers, medical practitioners, and single expert witnesses, can each provide useful perspectives.  But more is not always better; in any family breakdown there will be plenty of opinions to go around. 

The challenge for the Court is to sort the wheat from the chaff, while recognising that there are at least two sides to every story, and that often the truth lies somewhere in between.


Articles from Autumn Edition 2023

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