The breakdown of a relationship is always difficult and stressful even in the most amicable of separations. When family and domestic violence is present, leaving the relationship is the time when those abused are most at risk of harm. Frequently the abusive behaviours carry on long after the parties have left the relationship, particularly when children are involved, which require a parent to have an ongoing connection with their abuser for years to come.
Although individual state and territory courts have addressed the impact and safety of family and domestic violence victims with increasingly stringent protection orders, the issue has not been given the same the attention by the Commonwealth Courts in family law proceedings until now. The release of the Court’s new Family Violence Plan is a welcome step in the right direction by acknowledging the close connection between family breakdowns, violence, and the continuing impact it has on both adults and children alike.
With violence against women costing an estimated $22 billion a year to the Australian economy, increased action is essential as this figure will only continue to rise exponentially if not addressed. The emphasis of the Family Violence Plan is to ensure a practical, effective and achievable priority in the Courts’ protection of children and their families from family violence and its associated harms, both in and out of court.
Separation is seldom the end of abuse. Perpetrators often use court proceedings as a way to further control and harass their victims throughout the progression of their matter in the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court. By engaging in a multifaceted approach, the Court hopes to effectively address and better understand the cause, dynamics and effects of family and domestic violence in family law proceedings.
The Plan builds on and updates the Family Violence Plan 2014-16 by providing a restructured continuing commitment to addressing family violence in all areas of the court’s operation. The Plan sets out three priority areas: family violence; safety at court; and information and communication. Each area has a number of defined goals, identified actions and require regular or ongoing activity.
Within the Court itself, the attention of protection from family violence starts with a review and update of the Family Violence Best Practice Principles, a document designed to assist judges, legal practitioners and litigants to better understand legal requirements in matters which family violence is alleged. The Principles are to be used in all areas of the operational and administrative processes.
Ongoing training and development of staff is to be facilitated to enhance awareness and capability in addressing family violence issues including an understanding of issues unique to particular communities. Inter-agency cooperation, collaboration and information sharing is emphasised between the Court, and outside resources including state and territory courts, police and child protection agencies about existing family law orders.
Every aspect of the Court is to be evaluated and monitored. The internal workings, processes and practices of Courts, even the physical layout of each court building, is to be addressed to ensure that the Court is a safe space for all users.
Those users who are at risk of experiencing family violence will have ready access to information about how the courts can assist and effective referrals where they can seek help and counselling. Intergenerational education on what qualifies as abusive behaviour is critical. Victims often are exposed to abuse throughout their lives and this is their normal. Learning to recognised what is acceptable behaviour in the home and what a respectful relationship should look like may assist in breaking the cycle of abuse.
The Court realises that although all stakeholders may have a common goal, in the past the approach has not been a coordinated one. Without collaboration, gaping holes will continue to remain in the system leaving those most at risk, especially children, to fall through the cracks.
To their credit, the Courts commitment has not only recognised those faults but has established achievable goals to promote overall safety by considering the issues and effects of family and domestic violence in family law proceedings. If successful, this shift in focus will be reflected in the family law orders being made by the Court and eventuate in the long-term safety of children and their families.
If you or someone you know is affected by Family and Domestic Violence please call our Family and Domestic Violence expert Linda Miller for a confidential consultation on (07) 5576 9999.
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