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How To Leave A Violent Relationship | Separating When Family Violence is a Factor

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If you, your children or a family member are in immediate danger, phone 000. 

When you are in an unsafe situation at home and want to leave, you may put off doing so for fear of violence and harm coming to you and those you love. Identifying that you are facing these circumstances can be disempowering, but you should know that there are options that can help you escape family violence and get to safety. While this article explores how to leave a violent relationship, we know that people who are struggling with family violence aren’t always sure if the upsetting behaviours of a family member or partner would be considered domestic or family violence. 

In this article, I cover what is considered family violence, precautions to take, and practical first steps, and we also explore some of the obstacles that you may be facing that are stopping you from leaving.


What is Family Violence? Is What I’m Experiencing Considered Domestic or Family Violence?

By law, any means of threatening, violent, or other behaviour that controls, coerces or makes fearful a member of a family, is considered to be family violence. Behaviours that may qualify as family violence can include:


  • Repeated derogatory speech
  • Physical or sexual assault or abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Intentionally destroying property
  • Threats
  • Harming or killing a pet (or threatening to)
  • Unreasonably denying a member of the family financial autonomy (coercive control)
  • Preventing you or a family member from keeping connections with friends, family, or culture (coercive control)


All states and territories are currently considering or currently in the process of changing laws to criminalise coercive control. Tasmania has addressed coercive control across a number of laws since 2004. In the ACT, the government is throwing their support behind criminalising coercive control as well.

If you are experiencing domestic or family violence, you do have options. Even if you believe you don’t. Keep reading. You do not need to stay in this situation, and there are ways to help you.


Your Options for How To Leave A Violent Relationship or Family Violence Situation

You may want to leave a situation that is putting you or your children in harm’s way, but doing so without a plan can put you in greater danger. Speaking with a family lawyer first will help you get a better idea of what your options will be before and after you leave. We will also put you in touch with the right people to help support you to create an exit plan.

Our priority is always to make sure that you can get the information you need safely. If you would like to talk to one of our family lawyers, we will work with you to find a way to do so based on your circumstances. If you’re concerned about being tracked, we’ll meet you where you’re ‘supposed’ to be. Whether that means meeting you during one of your routine visits to a coffee shop or hair salon, we will make it a priority to provide you with advice, in a safe way that your partner won’t know about.


Can’t Afford To Leave?

This is a very common question. We know that many people have concerns about how they will afford to live or care for their children if they leave their current situation. If that is a concern for you, please know that there are options available to ensure access to food, clothing, safe housing and other necessities for yourself or your children when you do decide to go.

If you are ready to reach out for help now, in the ACT consider contacting the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) at (02) 6280 0900. In NSW, contact Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW).

In the event it isn’t safe for you to call for help, but you have access to a computer, you can chat online with the DVCS here or DVNSW via phone at 1800 RESPECT. All of these services are free, so you don’t have to worry about any expenses when you speak with their staff.


Preparation: Before You Leave

If it is safe to do so, start collecting and removing important information from your home in anticipation of your exit. For example, locate hard-to-replace documents and over time, remove them from your home and give them to your family lawyer or a trusted family member or friend for safekeeping. To start with, you will want to locate and safely remove the following:


  • Your passport
  • Your children’s passports
  • Birth certificates
  • Sentimental items that you are unable to replace if they go missing or become inaccessible
  • Keys to vehicles or your home


If you cannot gain access to the original documents, consider making copies of them to keep on hand yourself. You can take photos with your phone and upload them to a cloud service, keep paper copies or forward images directly to your lawyer or a family member before deleting images from your devices if necessary. 

We see that family violence tends to escalate, so it is essential to put a plan together to leave, so you know what to do and where to go when it is time. Early planning with your lawyer and other organisations’ will make sure you have the assistance needed.


What If My Phone or Online Search History Is Being Monitored?

Your safety is paramount. If you are concerned that your phone may be being monitored, it can be a good idea to purchase a ‘burner phone’ or to have a friend buy you a phone that is separate from your main contact line. Then, when you do decide to leave your home, you can use the burner phone to contact the 24/7 crisis intervention program offered by the DVCS or your local police without fear of your movements being monitored. These support services will help you gain access to safe emergency accommodation. They can also help you reach out for health care services if they are needed.

If you are concerned that your online activities could be being monitored, use a public library computer or friend’s device to search online.

Our goal in circumstances like these is to make sure you have access to the services you require and are fully informed of your rights and obligations as you take the next step. If you are concerned about how long it may take to get you or your children safe, there are options available to you.


Urgent Court Orders

If required, and upon your consent, we can take urgent, proactive steps to make safe arrangements for you and your children. 


There are two main avenues for urgent protection:

  1. We can apply for urgent applications to the Federal Circuit & Family Court of Australia for a Family Violence Intervention Order.
  2. We can obtain urgent applications to the Magistrate’s Court for a Domestic Violence Order.


For the offending person, this may result in a restraint of contact, or restrictions on their travel. These Court Orders can be finalised within days while you are in a safe and separate location. While these Orders are not considered a criminal conviction, if the offender breaches any Orders in place, then they will have committed a criminal offence.


How to leave a violent relationship. The first step.

The very first step in how to leave a violent relationship is picking up the phone. Either to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) to reach out to a lawyer for initial advice. A phone call or meeting with a lawyer never equals an obligation for you to do anything more if you do not wish to. It is purely an opportunity for you to learn more about what may be possible for yourself and your children.

In circumstances like these, it is best to speak with a lawyer who works exclusively in family law and supports clients through situations like these, every day. Our team can assist you to learn about your rights, the avenues available to you, and the mechanisms that can be actioned to keep you and your children safe. Our clients get the support they need to safely plan and leave their family violence situations. If that means it’s best to first speak with you on the phone, at a park, at the hairdresser or somewhere else, then that’s what we will do.

Related Articles: What can I do to escape family violence?


DDCS Lawyers specialise in providing advice for people who are experiencing or have experienced, family violence. If you would like to speak to one of our team, contact us on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation.