What do I need to know about family violence?
Under the Family Law Act 1975 (‘FLA’), physical violence is one of just many kinds of behaviour that could be recognised as family violence. This is because the law now recognises psychological and emotional abuse, and threatening or controlling behaviour, as well. This can be the case if you experience this yourself, or if you witness it happening to a family member. Unfortunately, many people can often experience family violence without realising it while it is happening to them.
In 2012, the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and other Measures) Act 2011 introduced a broad definition of family violence into the FLA. This amendment expanded the existing definition of “abuse” to also include psychological harm and serious neglect. As a result, s4AB of the FLA now defines “family violence” to mean:
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.
Examples of “family violence”
The definition also includes a non-exhaustive list of examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence. Some examples include the following types of behaviour:
- Assault and sexual assault or abusive behaviour;
- Repeated derogatory taunts;
- Intentionally damaging or destroying property;
- Intentionally injuring or causing death to an animal;
- Unreasonably denying financial autonomy;
- Unreasonably withholding financial support needed for everyday living costs, where that family member is financially dependent on the person;
- Preventing connections with family, friends or culture; and
- Unlawfully depriving a family member of their liberty.
The courts now recognise that family violence is not just physically harmful: it is also psychologically, emotionally and financially damaging too.
Expanding the definition: “exposure to family violence”
When considering what’s in the “best interests of the child” in parenting cases, the court must now give greater weight to the need to protect the child from family violence. “Exposure to family violence” is one such aspect a court must consider, and can include a number of scenarios:
- overhearing threats,
- comforting a family member after an act of family violence, and
- witnessing the arrival of police or ambulance services because one family member has assaulted another.
If you feel like you have been victim to a form of family violence, or are unsure whether the type of violence perpetrated against you or your family falls within the definition, We can provide you with the advice and support you need to move forward and make informed decisions about your future, while protecting yourself and your family.