Domestic and family violence is a topic that is increasingly in the spotlight in Australia, particularly with the recent strong media focus. In the 2014/2015 year there was 435 reported domestic violence incidents in the Sutherland Shire alone. However, it is estimated that less then half of domestic violence victims actually report the assault to police.
Due to the nature of family law, it is not surprising that domestic and family violence is prevalent in the Family Court system. It is estimated that approximately 41% of the matters filed in the Family Courts feature family violence.
The Family Law Act 1975 considers family violence in matters before the Court. Section 60CC(2) clearly sets out the primary considerations of the Court when determining what is in the best interests of the child, being:
(a) the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and
(b) the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
The legislation explicitly states that the Court is to give a greater weight to protecting the child from harm, than any other factor.
There are multiple avenues available in matters where family violence is involved to try and protect victims, as well as ensure that appropriate action is taken in regards to alleged perpetrators and the relationship they retain with their children.
The unfortunate issue currently faced by the Courts, and as eloquently highlighted by Chief Justice Bryant of the Family Court of Australia, is that restricted funding to various services and support groups, extensive delays in the Court system and limited resources available to parties of family law matters, leaves the Australian family law system in the position of trying to resolve complex family matters with limited resources and time.
It is widely established that the most effective way to resolve the issue of domestic and family violence on a long term basis, is through education and the provision of adequate support and resources. In September 2015 the Australian Government announced a $100 million package of measures to provide a safety net for women and children at high risk of experiencing violence. The focus of this package is to provide improved frontline support and services, leverage innovative technologies to keep women safe, and provide education resources to help change community attitudes to violence and abuse.
In the interim, while the Family Courts are facing limited resources and time, there is a strong focus on ensuring that best practice principles are implemented in the Family Courts to protect families, and particularly children, from the effects of family violence. The Family Violence Best Practice Principles released by the Family Courts in December 2015 assist the Courts, practitioners, service providers and litigants in cases where family violence is an issue. These principles provide guidance at every stage of the family court process to ensure that family violence is appropriately identified, reported and considered.
As practitioners our role is to ensure that our client is confident enough to advise us when family violence is an issue, to follow the best practice procedures ensuring the Courts are aware of family violence issues and ensure that our client is in the best possible position to seek appropriate reports and Orders, both interim and final, for their matter.
The expert team of lawyers at Solari & Stock, including 2 Family Law Accredited Specialists, have a wealth of experience in dealing with the complexities and sensitivities of Family Law, including family violence issues. We are more than happy to have an initial chat with any client, free of charge and obligation free. We commit to do our utmost to ensure that any Family Law referral is dealt with, with the highest professional care and to ensure that the continuing professional relationship between you and your client is maintained and enhanced.