Unified Lawyers Alex Burne

Alex Bourne

Alex practices almost exclusively within Family Law, where he has extensive experience in all family law related matters, including Property, Parenting, Divorce, LGBTI property settlements, De-Facto Relationships and Child Support.…
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Key Takeaways:

  • Domestic and family violence isn’t only physical abuse, it also includes verbal abuse, emotional manipulation and coercive control and other kinds of abusive behaviours.
  • If domestic violence is present in a relationship there are legal measures and protective orders that can help, including parenting orders and domestic violence orders.
  • Domestic violence is extremely common in Australia and can be difficult for some people to recognise.

If you are in danger and need help, call 000 immediately.

Family violence is an issue that affects many families across Australia.

Unfortunately, it is also a common factor in many separations and divorces and can make the process even more challenging for all parties involved.

In this article, we will explore domestic and family violence, its prevalence, the impact of family violence on separation and family law in Australia and provide information on legal remedies and resources available to help those affected experience family violence.

Table of Contents

What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence is any behaviour that causes physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm, or any coercive control, towards a family member, or causes a child to witness such abusive or controlling behaviour.

Domestic and family violence can take many forms and while it is commonly thought of as involving violent behaviour, it extends beyond physical behaviours and includes verbal abuse, emotional manipulation, financial control, and actions that control, humiliate and/or scare other people. Family violence can occur in any type of relationship, including between spouses, de facto partners, parents and children, siblings, and other family members.

You may notice throughout this article that we use the terms domestic violence and family violence interchangeably and/or together. Domestic violence and family violence are very similar, however, they do have differences, and this is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. Domestic violence refers to violence between people in a domestic relationship, like spouses or de facto partners. Family violence, on the other hand, is a broader term that includes domestic violence as well as violence between other family members, such as parents and children, siblings, grandparents, or other relatives.

cartoon image of a couple arguing in front of a child as an example of domestic and family violence.

How common is domestic and family violence?

Unfortunately, family and domestic violence is disturbingly common and the cause of many behavioural issues for people, as well as other social issues, like homelessness.

We’ve included some known statistics about family and domestic violence, however, it’s important to be aware that the problem could be a lot worse than what we know as it is common for victims to not report the abuse.

Here are some of the known statistics about domestic and family violence from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

As we mentioned above, a lot of instances of abuse and family violence goes unreported. This can be due to a number of different reasons, including a victim’s fear or their concern that no one will believe them. Another factor for domestic and family violence and abuse being unreported is that many people may not realise that what they are experiencing is a form of abuse.

What are the different kinds of abuse?

Abuse is commonly seen as a behaviour that one person does to have power and control over a person. Some of these abusive behaviours are subtle and may lead to instances of abuse being overlooked by the victim or perpetrator as they may not understand that a behaviour is a type of abuse. Below are some of the different kinds of abuse:

Physical Abuse

This type of abuse is probably the most well-known type of abuse and for many, if they aren’t experiencing physical abuse, they may not realise that they are being abused. Physical abuse can involve physical behaviours that are designed to control and/or hurt a person, such as punching, slapping, kicking, squeezing, restraining, strangling and/or hitting. It can also include actions that make a person feel unsafe physically, like reckless driving.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse may be seen as being a form of physical abuse, however, not all sexual abuse is physical. For example, sex and behaviours around it can be used to control people or have power over them. This is because sex and sexuality can have a big impact on people emotionally, and these emotions can be manipulated to degrade someone’s self-value.

Sexual abuse can also take physical forms of abuse, including forced sexual acts, non-consensual touching, and rape.

Verbal Abuse

This type of abuse is also referred to as emotional abuse and isn’t always obvious to outsiders and even victims themselves. Abusers can make people feel worthless using their words. They can criticise, humiliate and insult someone to destroy their self-worth.

Psychological Abuse

This type of abuse is where the perpetrator actively tries to wear away at another person’s mental health and wellbeing through words and actions. In these instances, the aim is usually to make someone question their own sanity. Commonly, this is known as gaslighting, and can lead to isolation and for the victim to depend on the perpetrator.

Social Abuse

This abuse most commonly involves isolation from friends and family and denying contact with people outside the home. It can also involve feelings of jealousy, and possessiveness and manifest in actions such as restricting access to social media and communication devices.

Financial Abuse

This type of abuse, also known as economic abuse, can involve a person maintaining all financial control. This could mean that they control the budget and access to money, they may allow the victim to have a controlled allowance, however, they are likely to not be able to access credit cards or the household money. Controlling a person’s finances can make it exceptionally difficult for a victim to leave their situation and allows the perpetrator to maintain power and control.

Cultural or Spiritual Abuse

This type of abuse can be varied and involves the cultural aspect of a person’s life being the target of the perpetrators abuse. For example, a person’s spirituality, their culture or their sexual orientation. Abuse could include a person not allowing someone to follow particular faith customs, cultural traditions such as dressing a certain way or observing dietary requirements. This can be isolating and be a way to control a person.

Knowing the signs of abuse

As abuse can come in many forms, knowing when it is occurring can be difficult – especially for outsiders.

Some signs of abuse, such as bruises, injuries and physical marks can be easy to see (not in all circumstances) but in many instances, it’s easy to overlook potential warning signs of abuse as ordinary behaviours of the victim.

Abuse and domestic violence can affect every person in a different way, so while it may be difficult to be able to spot every potential red flag or sign of abuse, it is worth knowing the most common signs of abuse.

Below are some possible signs that a person may be experiencing abuse or violence, which we’ve categorised into physical signs, emotional signs, and behavioural signs:

Physical signs of abuse:

As we touched on above, some signs of abuse can be more obvious than others, for example, some of the signs of physical abuse include:

  • Bruises;
  • Cut lips;
  • Black eyes;
  • Sprains;
  • Unusual marks on skins; and/or
  • Unexplained injuries

It’s common for victims of physical violence and abuse to try to explain away these injuries or even to cover them up, so it’s important to be mindful that this could culminate in changing the way they are dressing or wearing excessive clothing or makeup to hide the marks.

Emotional Signs of Abuse

Abuse of any form takes a toll on a person, particularly, emotionally. Some emotional signs of abuse include:

  • Constant alertness;
  • Loss of interest in regular activities;
  • Agitation;
  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Fearfulness; and/or
  • Low self-esteem.

Behavioural signs of Abuse

For many domestic and family violence victims, they will change their behaviours. This may be due to the emotional toll the abuse is taking on them or as a way to appease their abuser. Some of these behavioural changes include:

  • Abuse of drugs and alcohol;
  • Reservedness;
  • Isolating themselves;
  • Being very private; and/or
  • Changing the way they look or dress.
cartoon image of family law legislation that deals with domestic and family violence.

How does the family law system in Australia deal with cases of domestic violence?

Australian family law recognises the importance of protecting family members from violence and takes a zero-tolerance approach to family violence in all family law proceedings. The Family Law Act 1975 (the Act) outlines the legal framework for family law in Australia and includes provisions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of family members in cases of family violence. Section 4AB of the Act provides the definition of family violence and over time this definition has been expanded to incorporate notions of coercion and control.

Family and Domestic violence is taken very seriously, and there are legal remedies available to protect those who are affected. These include parenting orders, which outline arrangements for the care and upbringing of children, as well as intervention orders, like family violence intervention orders, apprehended violence orders (AVOs) or domestic violence orders (DVOs), which are court orders that restrict an individual’s behaviour towards another person and are enforceable Australia-wide, regardless of the state or territory that it has been issued in.

Parenting orders can be applied for to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, while intervention orders can be applied for by you, a police officer, lawyer, friend or family member and be applied for online, or filed with your nearest Magistrates Court. For more information about how to get an intervention/protection order in your state or territory see the below:

In cases of family violence, the court will take into account any evidence of violence or abuse when making these decisions. Child protection is particularly important in cases of family violence. If a child has been exposed to family violence, the court will consider the child’s safety and wellbeing as the primary concern. The court may order a family report to be prepared, which will provide information about the child’s relationships with both parents, as well as any concerns about family violence or other issues that may affect the child’s welfare.

When making decisions that impact a child, such as those that may be made when a couple separates, the best interests of the child are paramount, and to decide what is in the child’s best interest, two primary factors must be considered, one of which is that the child is protected from all kinds of harm. In instances where abuse and violent behaviour does exist, this may result in a child only being able to see a parent under supervised visits or a parent no longer having any contact or access to their child at all.

As each case is different, if family violence does exist in your relationship, if possible, it’s best to work with a family lawyer who can help you understand your legal options.

Family violence and separation

Separation and divorce are already difficult processes, and when family violence is involved, they can become even more complicated. Family violence can affect a range of issues related to separation, including child custody, property division, and spousal support.

While it may not always be possible in every situation, we highly recommend seeking legal advice from a family law specialist if you’re experiencing domestic or family violence and you’re separating. A family lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations, as well as help protect you and your family from further violence.

It is important to note that family violence can impact the separation process even if it has not been reported or documented in the past. Family violence survivors may feel reluctant to speak out due to fear or shame, but it is essential to seek help and support to protect yourself and your children from further harm.

cartoon image of a lawyer and client.

The role of lawyers in family violence cases

Family and domestic violence lawyers have an important role to play in cases of family violence. It is essential for lawyers to be aware of the signs of family violence and to be able to identify when it is present. Domestic violence lawyers have a responsibility to provide advice and support to their clients, and to help them navigate the legal system in a way that protects their safety and wellbeing.

Separation and divorce are already difficult, so when there is abuse and violence in the family home, being able to come to decisions together is often not possible. A family lawyer can help to negotiate on your behalf, mediate to resolve disputes, and of course, represent and advocate for abuse victims if the matter reaches court.

Being able to access the services of a domestic violence lawyer when you’re a victim of abuse can be difficult, however, if possible, having a consultation with one can really help. They can learn about your situation and provide you with advice and guidance as to how and where you can get help.

Resources for victims of domestic and family violence

In addition to the services of a family and domestic violence lawyer, there are many resources and support services available to family violence survivors. These may include services such as a domestic violence counselling line, housing support, financial assistance, emergency services and more. If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, it is important to seek help and support as soon as possible.

Below are some of the support phone lines available to contact in Australia:

See more support resources here.

And if a person’s life is in immediate danger, including your own, call 000.

Talk to Unified Lawyers today

Domestic and family violence is a serious issue that affects many families across Australia. In cases of separation and divorce, family violence can make the process even more challenging for everyone involved.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or any abuse, it is important to seek help and support. At Unified Lawyers, our domestic violence lawyers have worked with many survivors of domestic and family violence and we’re here for you.

Call us today on 1300 667 461 or book a free consultation using the button below.

Unified Lawyers Alex Burne

Alex Bourne

Alex practices almost exclusively within Family Law, where he has extensive experience in all family law related matters, including Property, Parenting, Divorce, LGBTI property settlements, De-Facto Relationships and Child Support. Alex regularly appears before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia in often complex Family Law litigation including Parenting and Property matters.

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