Federal parliamentary inquiry on safety in family law for those affected by family violence

The federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs has announced an inquiry on how the family law system could be improved to ensure the safety of those affected by family violence. Further details are available here.

Why is this important?

This is an important opportunity for family violence survivors’ voices to be heard by the federal government on what could be done to fix a broken system.

If survivors’ voices are not heard through this process, there is a danger that other voices will dominate.

The Terms of Reference focus on many important issues of safety in family law in the Safety First 5-step Plan. For the detail – see below.

The inquiry Principles also make clear that the Committee will: work to avoid duplication with previous family law inquiries and commissions; have particular regard to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other disadvantaged groups; and, conduct the inquiry in a manner which does not re-traumatise people who have been affected by family violence.

What can you do?

For community members

We call on family violence survivors who have been through the family law process to:

  • complete this anonymous survey by 30 June 2017
  • if you feel comfortable to do so – express your interest in making a community statement (this would be by telephone)
  • if you feel comfortable to do so – make a written submission by 3 May 2017

If you do not feel confident to do the above – speak to your local Women’s Legal Service about getting support in participating.

For service providers

We call on family violence and community service providers to:

  • encourage all of your family violence survivor clients to participate in this process, where appropriate, and provide them with support to do so if necessary
  • make a written submission
  • let other community services working with family violence survivors know about this opportunity by email and social media, and encourage them to ask their clients to participate, and to participate themselves

The details – how is the Safety First Plan relevant?

The Terms of Reference ask questions on many important issues addressed in the Safety First 5-step Plan. They include:

1. How can the family law system more quickly and effectively ensure the safety of people who are or may be affected by family violence?

This includes how the family law system could better facilitate the early identification of and response to family violence.

And – what legal and non-legal support services are required to support the early identification of and response to family violence?

> See Step 1 of the Safety First Plan, which calls for early risk assessment by family law registries in family violence cases

2. How can we make sure that consent orders made by family law courts support the safety of family members?

> See Step 3a of the Safety First Plan, on the need for legally assisted dispute resolution in family violence cases.

Many victim survivors of violence feel pressured to enter into consent orders following family dispute resolution that they feel are not in the best interests of the child and do not adequately take into consideration family violence concerns. If legally represented this is in circumstances where their lawyer may not have had the opportunity or the time to obtain full instructions regarding the violence.

> See Step 2c of the Safety First Plan, on the need for an end to direct cross-examination of family violence survivors by their abusers in the family courts.

Further, family violence victim survivors are more likely to consent to court orders which are not in the best interests of the child or which do not adequately address family violence concerns, if they fear they will have to endure direct cross-examination, or are fatigued due to a lengthy court proceeding.

3. How can the family law system better support families before the courts where one or more party is self-represented, and where there are allegations or findings of family violence?

> See Step 2c of the Safety First Plan, on the need for an end to direct cross-examination of family violence survivors by their abusers in the family courts.

4. How can the family law system better support people who have been subjected to family violence to recover financially?

This includes considering the extent to which family violence should be taken into account in the making of property division orders.

> See Step 4 of the Safety First Plan, on (a) promoting early resolution of small property pool matters (b) requiring courts to consider family violence when determining a property division and (c) simplifying court processes and forms to make them more accessible.

5. How could the capacity of all family law professionals—including judges, lawyers, registrars, family dispute resolution practitioners and family report writers—be strengthened in relation to matters concerning family violence?

> See Step 5 of the Safety First Plan, on (a) a mandatory national accreditation and monitoring scheme for family report writers with mandatory family violence training for writers (b) a comprehensive family violence training package for judges and (c) a comprehensive family violence training program for lawyers.

6. What is the potential for a national approach for the administration and enforcement of personal safety intervention orders?

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