Family violence is defined as violent, threatening or other behaviour that coerces or controls another family member or causes them to be fearful. Some examples of behaviour that constitutes family violence are:
- An assault
- A sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour
- Repeated derogatory taunts
- Intentionally damaging property
- Unreasonably controlling or denying a family member access to finances or financial support
- Depriving a family member of their liberty
- There are many other types of behaviour that may constitute family violence.
A child may be exposed to family violence if they see or hear family violence or experience the effect of family violence. Some examples of a situation where a child may be exposed to family violence are:
- Overhearing threats or violence from one family member to another family member
- Seeing or hearing an assault by one family member on another family member
- Being present when police or ambulance officers attend to a family member who has been assaulted by another family member
Family Violence in family law is defined as:
- A family member doing something or threatening to do something to another member of their family, or
- A family member doing or threatening to do something to the other family member’s property that makes the other family member (or someone else in the family) worried or fearful for their safety.
There are many support services available if you are experiencing family or domestic violence. It is advised that you remove yourself and children (if there are any) from that situation and obtain advice.
I have brought a Violence Restraining Order against my former partner, do I need to tell the family court?
Yes, you should tell the Family Court if you have a violence restraining order (domestic and family violence) (VRO), against your former partner, or which involves your children or any other person who is part of your family if you have a current matter before the Family Court. If you have a VRO against your former partner that involves your children then you must inform the Family Court.
The Court will look at any family violence involving a child or a member of the child’s family. If there is a family violence order that currently applies or has applied in the past to your family, the Court will look at:
- The nature and circumstances of that order
- Any evidence that was put forward in the proceedings leading to the order
- Any findings that the Court made during the proceedings
- Anything else that the Court sees as relevant
Will the Family Court take family violence into account when making parenting orders about my children?
Yes. The Family Court is concerned about family violence and wants to make sure it protects children from harm. If you or your former partner alleges:
- that there has been family violence
- there is a risk of family violence
- that there has been child abuse or
- there is a risk of child abuse,
then a Form 4 “Notice of child abuse or family violence” must be filed and served on the person who is alleged to have carried out the family violence or child abuse (as well as any other person who is a party to the proceedings).
The Court is required to take prompt action in relation to allegations of child abuse or family violence and may consider appointing an Independent Children’s Lawyer or a single expert witness to assess the allegations of family violence or child abuse made in the Form 4.
Acts of family violence or child abuse are taken very seriously by the Family Court and may delay the court process in order for investigations into the allegations to be carried out.
If the Family Court determines that there is a risk or there are safety concerns in relation to children when they are considering what parenting orders to make, they will look at what arrangements will be most appropriate in the circumstances, while always considering what is in the best interests of the child.
Some of the options that the Court may order are:
- The child spends no time with the parent or party who has allegedly engaged in family or domestic violence or abuse.
- There is supervised time set up between the child and the parent or party who has allegedly engaged in family or domestic violence or abuse. The order can require that another family member or a professional supervises the time the child spends time with the parent.
- The child spends very limited time with the other parent or party, for example only a few hours during the day, with no overnight stays.
- The child only spends time with the other parent or party in a public environment, for example a shopping centre or park/playground.
- The parent or party who has allegedly engaged in family or domestic violence or abuse undergo counselling or partake in a parenting course.
If the Family Court orders any of the above options, it is likely that the orders will be for a limited or set period of time to allow further assessment of the situation and to determine that the child is safe and not at risk.