Published: 16 January 2017
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas
Family Law cases spike in New Year
Traditionally there is a heightened awareness in the lead up to Christmas that family violence increases as the financial and emotional pressures of the festive season draw closer.
In turn, the New Year marks a time where see our family law case load increases with clients seeking divorce, intervention orders and reports of domestic violence. For many of our clients, the New Year marks a deadline for an opportunity to create positive change and to take positive steps towards managing their future.
In other cases, the festive season has resulted in greater usage of drugs and alcohol, which is widely recognised as a factor in triggering domestic violence and in turn creating demand for counsel in family law.
The alarming statistics
The statistics around domestic violence in Australia are shocking.
- On average, a partner, or former partner in Australia kills at least one woman a week.(Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2015.)
- 1 in 3 Australian women has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15 and 1 in 5 Australian women has experienced sexual violence (Source: Cox, P. 2015 Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey 2012.
- 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012.
- For additional statistics visit: Australian Bureau of Statistics: Experimental Family and Domestic Violence Statistics, and ABC News: Fact file: Domestic violence in Australia
Increased awareness in domestic violence boosts family law
The Royal Commission into Family Violence and Rosie Batty’s work in family violence awareness have also heightened public awareness of domestic violence and a movement towards zero tolerance.
We are seeing a growing number of clients seeking intervention orders, which are designed to protect victims of domestic violence.
Due to increased media and education regarding domestic violence issues, we are also seeing a greater reporting of domestic violence. Meanwhile, the courts do tend to lean favourably towards women being safe, and as such we are seeing more and more men rightly or wrongly disheartened with the system.
In custody cases, the children are often ruled best off with the mother but we also see cases where the children’s best interests are to spend the majority of time with the father. There are no blanket rules and each case is unique and is treated individually.
The publicity surrounding domestic violence and education in schools is promising – particularly when young people are encouraged to respect others and when the issue is less gender based.
So, who are the victims of domestic violence?
Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) is the independent organisation jointly funded by the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to research evidence to reduce domestic violence against women and children.
Their Violence Against Women in Australia report notes that 1 in 4 women have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner they may or may not have been living with.
The ABS's personal safety survey (PSS), was last conducted in 2012 and is the only consistent national survey on domestic violence victims. Around 17,000 people aged 18 and over were asked, in private, about their experience of violence since the age of 15. It shows that one in 11 people (1,927,900) have been subject to violence by a partner since the age of 15 — the breakdown is one in six women (1,479,900) and one in 20 men (448,000). It reports that the total victims of partner violence since the age of 15, 23 per cent were men and 77 per cent were women.
While we represent many women in family law, our experience also shows that it’s not always men who are perpetrators of domestic violence. It works both ways, and we also represent men who have been raised not to be violent but instead are themselves the victims of domestic violence.
There seems to be a lack of respect in the community in general. We see this in courts with a rising lack of respect for Judges, particularly amongst young people.
In families where there has been a history of domestic violence, we see young women in particular who tend not to have a healthy sense of respect for themselves. Consequently, they often don’t have the courage and self-respect to leave when faced with a domestic violence situation.
The upside of family law
As family lawyers, we see more incidents of domestic violence than we would like and yet it can be some of our most rewarding work to see a family formerly living in conflict, now made up of individuals living separately in peace and harmony.
It is an especially good day at the office or court, when we know we have ensured a parent and their child/ren is protected by the law from ongoing violence, and we have helped create a future where they now feel safe and in control of their lives.