By Alison Osmand
Family violence remains one of the most significant issues facing women and children in Australia especially in terms of the impact on their separation and their future going forward.
Family violence has a direct impact on a party’s ability to negotiate about their property settlement and make appropriate arrangements for their children. The ability to access the court system to seek assistance in circumstances where your personal safety and that of your children may be at risk should be a fundamental part of the Australian justice system.
The release of the Court’s Family Violence Plan is designed to address the issues of family violence. By engaging in a multifaceted approach, the Court hopes to effectively address and better understand the cause, dynamics and effects of family and domestic violence in family law proceedings.
Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Honourable Will Alstergren acknowledged the close connection between family breakdown and violence, and the detrimental impact on adults and children who live with family violence.
“The Courts take family violence very seriously and realise that we must continually strive to do better. This Plan identifies clear goals, actions to be taken and timelines in relation to protection from family violence; safety at court; and information and communication,” Chief Justice Alstergren said.
The plan provides guidance and a set of actions for administrative staff, decisionmakers, legal practitioners, service providers and others involved in the overall family law system. It also covers the review and updating of the Family Violence Best Practice Principles, a document designed to assist judges, legal practitioners and litigants understand the legal requirements for all matters in which family violence is alleged.
Along with the release of the Court’s Family Violence Plan, on 11 March 2019, the Family Law Act was amended by the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties ) Act 2018 (Cth) which prohibits perpetrators of family violence from personally or directly cross-examining their former spouse in family law proceedings where the perpetrator is self-represented in the proceedings. The Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties scheme will be established to fund legal representation for the purpose of cross-examination of the victim. That is, the perpetrator will need to apply for this representation or they may be prohibited from cross-examining the other party. The scheme will be administered by Legal Aid Offices in the states and territories.
The Judge can determine and make an order that the cross-examining party (the perpetrator) cannot cross-examine the other party personally and the cross-examination must be conducted by a legal practitioner.
This is a significant amendment to the Family Law Act that further demonstrates the Court’s commitment to protecting victims of family violence in family law proceedings.
If you are concerned about family violence at all, please call our us on (02) 6212 7600.