• 12 September 2018

Leaving a violent relationship

Most relationships are not characterised by violence, but more and more people are understanding that violence is not just physical violence. Each child deserves to be raised in a household free from violence. Unfortunately, family violence is widespread in Australia. We often find that domestic violence is a cycle; children who observe domestic violence often grow up to be perpetrators of such violence, or they enter into violent relationships as it is all they have ever known. Most people assume that family violence means physical violence, but this is not the case. There are many different forms of family violence and abuse. Some abusive behaviours are so insidious that even the victim does not identify that they are being abused and people in the community may not recognise any signs of violence either.

S4AB (1) of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides a definition of 'family violence'. Family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person's family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.

Some examples of family violence are:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual assault or sexually abusive behaviour
  • Stalking
  • Repeated derogatory taunts and verbal abuse
  • Intentionally damaging or destroying property e.g. smashing household items
  • Intentionally causing death or injury to a family pet
  • Unreasonably withholding money and financial support; particularly when children are involved and when one parent is financially dependent on the other
  • Preventing a family member from communicating with their family and friends e.g removing a person's mobile phone or depriving them of a motor vehicle.
  • Depriving a family member of his or her liberty e.g. preventing them from leaving the home, controlling when they leave the home and dictating where that person is permitted to go.
  • Threats to harm or kill the family member

We often find that victims of domestic violence are unsure of how to 'escape' a violent relationship, or they do not leave because they are concerned about the potential consequences of leaving. There are a multitude of reasons why a victim does not leave a violent relationship. Some of these reasons include the lack of independent financial resources, having no access to, or inability to drive, a motor vehicle and being deprived of a mobile telephone. The perpetrator often uses the children as a tool to keep the person in the home, and the victim has no support network of friends or family in place to assist them. Unfortunately, some victims are not able to escape, and this can lead to tragic endings. On average, one woman is murdered by her partner, or an ex-partner, every week. Our family law clients often tell us that they didn't leave a relationship because the other parent threatened them by saying, "You can leave but you can't take the children." Many parents stay in that abusive relationship because they are concerned that the children will be retained by the violent parent.

There are services in place in Australia to assist victims of domestic violence. We urge victims of domestic violence to contact NSW Police to report acts of violence. The Police can apply for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) on your behalf. The Police have the power to put in place a Provisional ADVO whilst you await the first court date. The police can exclude the perpetrator from the family home. The conditions that can be imposed by the ADVO can restrict the perpetrator from entering the home, restrict them from attending the children's school, restrict them from attending your workplace, and restraints on them contacting you by any means. There is a program in place in various locations called Staying Home Leaving Violence, a service funded by Family and Community Service, that works with NSW police. The Wollongong program can be contacted on 4255 5333.

There are many services available to assist victims of domestic violence and assist them in leaving the home. We have provided a list to assist people who may be in a violent relationship, or persons who know someone in a violent relationship:

  • The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Line can be contacted on 1800 737 732 or there is a chat service available online
  • The NSW Domestic Violence Line on 1800 65 64 63
  • Centrelink if you require financial assistance and crisis payments to relocate
  • Lifeline 24 hr crisis support and suicide prevention they can be contacted on 131114 or via online chat services.
  • Link2Home 1800 152 152 accommodation and support for persons at risk of homelessness.
  • Violence Abuse and Neglect Counselling Service (VANS) is available in the Illawarra area as a counselling and support service 4222 5408

If you have children, we recommend that you call the NSW police. As stated above, they have the power to remove perpetrators of violence from the family home. If you are concerned about how an ADVO may impact on parenting arrangements, or you want to discuss your plans for the children, you may find the following services available:

  • The Women's Legal Service NSW you can receive legal advice via telephone or book a face to face appointment on their website They are available to be contacted on 1800 801 501.
  • The Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW can be contacted on 1800 938 227. There are various supports available including urgent legal advice, counselling, support and referrals to other agencies. If you are in the Illawarra area they can be contacted on 4228 1499.
  • The domestic violence advocacy service can be contacted on 1800 810 784
  • Family Relationship Centre (Uniting Counselling and Mediation Wollongong) 4220 1100 or 1800 864 846
  • Relationships Australia 1300 364 277 relationship counselling, parenting courses, relationship education programs and mediation service
  • Legal Aid NSW 1300 888 259 can be contacted for urgent legal advice and referral to private practitioners who are on the legal aid panel.

An Apprehended Domestic Violence Order does not mean that your children must stop seeing the other parent. Speak to NSW police officers and the domestic violence officers on the day of your first court date to ensure the conditions put in place can be varied with family law agreements. We note the above mediation services can assist you with putting in place a parenting plan. Our Family Law Team also assist with attendance at mediations, preparation of consent orders and assisting you with court applications. The Family Law Act requires parent to attempt to resolve their dispute through mediation processes prior to commencing court proceedings. We advise that the Court can dispense with this requirement for various reasons, including if they are satisfied that there has been family violence, abuse of a child, risk of family violence or the circumstances are urgent.

We note that solicitors on our Family Law Team are members of the Legal Aid Panel and can undertake legal aid work as a private practitioner. We are able to make Legal Aid applications online on your behalf. Our Family Law Team can be contacted on our office number 4226 5711 if you require assistance.

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