COVID-19 Lockdown and Domestic Abuse

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Domestic abuse is a concern for many people in Australia, especially during lockdown.

Last year, as Melbourne fared through a series of lockdowns, domestic abuse offences were reported to have increased by 9.4%.

Family violence or domestic abuse occurs at alarmingly high rates in Australia.

A study conducted by Mission Australia showed that between 2019-20, 23% of women (that 1 in 4) had experienced domestic abuse by a partner or other family member and a staggering 13% of women and 10% of men had witnessed family violence in their household by the age of 15.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2016, 17 adults were hospitalised every day due to injuries from family violence.

As New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia go through hard lockdowns to battle the COVID-19 Delta variant, we’ve prepared this guide to assist those who may find themselves experiencing domestic abuse. 

 

What is domestic violence 

The Family Law Act 1975 states that family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour from a family member that causes another or multiple other family members to be fearful.

It is important to note here that the abuse doesn’t need to be physical to constitute as family or domestic violence.

For example, if one person in a partnership doesn’t have permanent residency or citizenship and the other partner threatens them with deportation unless they do what they want, this falls under the category of system abuse.

Similarly, when an individual isolates their partner from their support group (friends and family) and restricts their access to a car or phone, this is considered social abuse.

Family violence can take shape in many different forms, as is highlighted in the following categories:

  • Physical abuse and/or damaging property
  • Sexual abuse
  • Reproductive abuse
  • Systems abuse
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Social abuse
  • Spiritual abuse
  • Technology abuse
  • Stalking

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. Please read the Family Law Act 1975 for more information.

 

What can you do to protect yourself if you’re experiencing domestic abuse during lockdown?

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there are options available to you in Australia that will help you protect yourself and other vulnerable people in your family. This section will cover:

  • Domestic Violence Orders
  • Parenting Orders
  • Filing for divorce

Domestic Violence Orders

A person that’s had a Domestic Violence Order made against them will be ordered to refrain from:

  • Assaulting or threatening to assault the protected person(s)
  • Stalking and intimidating the protected person(s)
  • Destroy or damage property that belongs to the protected person(s)

More conditions can be added to a domestic violence order, based on the circumstances. This might include preventing an individual from living with the protected person(s).

The names of domestic violence orders will differ slightly from state to state. In NSW, for example, they’re called Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs) and they can be applied for by police and individuals over the age of 16. 

If you want to get a domestic violence order to protect yourself or your family and you live in NSW, you can apply through the police or your local court. 

 

Parenting Orders

On a federal level, individuals who are experiencing domestic or family violence can protect themselves or their children by obtaining Parenting orders. Parenting orders are made by the Family or Federal Circuit court, so, for this reason, they override domestic violence orders, which are mandated by states and territories. 

A Parenting Order will determine:

  • Parental responsibility
  • Who a child will live with
  • How much a child will interact with the parent they do not live with

Those wishing to file an application for a parental order usually have to attend a Family Dispute Resolution Conference and undertake other pre-filing obligations. However, they can seek an exemption if they are victims of family violence. They will also need to file a Notice of child abuse, family violence or risk

 

Filing for divorce

If you’re seeking to separate and divorce from your spouse, you’ll need to start by making sure you’re eligible for a divorce

Once you know you’re eligible, you’ll need to fill out a file for divorce application.

While you can do this as a sole applicant by yourself, it is always helpful to get legal advice to know where you stand and what you need to do.

Once you’ve filed your application, you need to send a sealed copy of the application to your spouse 28 days before the hearing (if they are in Australia) and 42 days before the hearing (if they are overseas). 

The application can cost more than $900 – if you need help with legal costs, Legal Aid provides assistance to victims of family violence at low costs.

If you have a child under the age of 18, you will be required to attend the hearing.

If not, you don’t have to attend the hearing. 

At your hearing, the Court will determine if your divorce application is successful.

If it is, it will grant a divorce order. If not, the Court will ask you to provide more documents before granting a divorce order. 

When it comes to property settlement during a divorce, the Court takes family violence into account and, as stipulated in section 75 and 79 of the Family Law Act, can make adjustments in favour of the persons subjected to violence.

 

Supporting Resources for Victims of Domestic Abuse During Lockdown

If you’re in immediate danger, call 000

For more information, counselling and advice, visit 1800RESPECT or call them at 1800 737 732.

Call the Family Court of Australia on 1300 352 000.

For a private and confidential consultation, email us at admin@justicefamilylawyers.com.au or call us:

  • Sydney office: +612 808 93148
  • Melbourne office: +613 8609 0329 
  • Barangaroo office: +612 808 93148

To learn more about the NSW COVID-19 relief packages or find out if you’re eligible for disaster payments, visit the Service NSW website.

If you are concerned for someone you know that is experiencing family violence, please refer to the department of social services for information. 

If you’re browsing this information and need to exercise caution, please read about how you can browse for help safely. 

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