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Family court

Handwriting analysis and family law

By January 16, 2019November 1st, 2021No Comments

What happens if your ex provides a court with documents they say you wrote, but you know you didn’t write them? You might consider engaging the services of a forensic document examiner to provide the court with a handwriting analysis opinion as to whether you are in fact the authentic author of the document.

In fact handwriting analysis experts crop up occasionally in the Family Courts, usually in property matters where a formal document’s signature is questioned, but also in “he said, she said” situations in other family law matters. For example, a recent parenting case in the Family Court in Adelaide, Viduka & Viduka (court-appointed pseudonyms) made mention of engaging a graphologist or handwriting analyst to provide expert opinion.

In the Viduka case, each parent sought primary custody of a five year old boy and each accused the other of being a risk to him. The father sought to provide as evidence a number of letters, documents and text messages he said he had received from the mother. The mother argues the father fabricated this material as part of his legal strategy:

A further consideration by the mother is her contention that the letters and documents annexed to the father’s Affidavit of 6 March 2018 are concocted, presumably by the father. The documents were provided by the father to the police. The documents allege that the mother had threatened to poison the child and the father, that she felt no love for the child and had assaulted and drugged him.

In an interim hearing it is not possible for the authenticity of documents such as these to be established, so the judge noted that:

For his part, the father contends that the mother is the author of the documents and he seeks to establish the connection by employing the services of a graphologist.

Graphology is the term for the study of handwriting, and handwriting analysis forms part of forensic document examination, where experts provide opinions on the authenticity of documents and their contents. Handwriting experts are usually engaged to either assess whether a disputed signature on a formal document (like a will or financial agreement) is a forgery, or to establish who wrote a piece of handwriting if the contents have evidentiary value.

Handwriting is made up of at least 20 elements or characteristics of the script, including: pressure, letter height, breadth and proportion, continuity, angle and length of strokes, degree of slant and slope, and space between lines, letter and words. The idiosyncratic combination of all these elements gives our handwriting its unique, identifiable style.

Graphology or handwriting analysis is used in many kinds of settings. When graphology is used to determine aspects of someone’s personality, it is rather more controversial than where it is used in forensic document examination.  For example, graphology is widely used in Europe by employers during the hiring process, often as part of other psychometric testing, but has its detractors who regard it as more of a pseudoscience, like astrology or palm-reading.

But the practice is legitimately used in forensic science for determining the authenticity of documents, to identify if a signature is genuine, or to identify who actually wrote a document.  The results of the analysis performed by the expert are often used in civil hearings and criminal trials. Many kinds of stakeholders engage forensic document examiners, such as law firms, corporations, regulatory bodies as well as individuals.

There are still some problems concerning the validity of the interpretations, with graphology complicated by the same problems that beset other methods of psychological testing.  In America, testimony invoking graphology is typically inadmissible, with courts expressing doubt about its veracity. Since handwriting analysts are held to the same professional standard as other court experts, they need to be able to prove the scientific validity of their practice, which has not always been possible. But over the past 20 years, more studies are being conducted which contribute to increasing the scientific validity of the practice and confirm that handwriting expert opinions are more reliable than laypeople’s opinions.

Unlike with many other expert fields, for graphology there is no independent Australian educational body or legal authority to accredit a handwriting or signature comparison analyst, with courts determining the authority an expert has based on their background experience and education qualifications, in accordance with rules of evidence. Australian rules of evidence mean that experts must have “discipline-specific” tertiary qualifications, from a certified institution. Currently Australia only has one university, Deakin, which offers a Bachelor of Forensic Science which is professionally accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. But membership of a discipline-specific organisation or association also lends the expert credibility. For example, the analyst may be a member of the Australasian Society of Forensic Document Examiners, Inc. or of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society.

In the Viduka case, the father claims to no longer be in possession of the original documents:

The whereabouts of the original documents has become a relevant issue. The mother has called for the original documents, however the father asserts that he does not have them and as such they cannot be produced. The mother contends that she is not the author of the documents and without the originals being provided it is not possible to establish their provenance.

However, though it isn’t ideal, an experienced handwriting analysis expert can still potentially form an opinion based on copies rather than originals.

You can read the case here.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.


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