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Family Violence and Children at Risk

Every day in my practice as a family lawyer, family dispute resolution practitioner and mediator, I hear stories of family violence and children at risk.

Whilst family violence is a tragedy in and of itself, more tragic is the suffering caused to the children who are exposed,

in one way or another – by hearing, seeing, feeling – incidents of domestic violence and/or the aftermath of family violence.

The following article in ‘The Age’ reports the findings of a new study by the Australian Institute Family Studies which confirms what we already know – that children who are exposed to family violence are at higher risk of suffering sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

The issue is ‘What can be done to prevent children from being exposed to family violence, thereby reducing the risk of future abuse for these very same children?’

The Australian Institute of Family Studies report, which will be released on Wednesday, also shows that children exposed to domestic violence from an early age are more likely to experience difficulties at school and have lifelong problems with social and cognitive development.

The report, Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence, draws on local and international research to examine the effects on children raised in abusive households.

It found young people who grew up around domestic violence were at higher risk of other forms of abuse, and that exposure to family violence was the leading cause of homelessness in young people.

“It affects their development in such a global fashion,” AIFS director Anne Hollonds said. “The problems are extensive and they go right across physical and mental wellbeing, cognitive development, which obviously affects academic achievement and employment.”

The study found child abuse often co-existed with domestic violence and that victims of persistent maltreatment in childhood suffered similar effects to trauma, which can lead to aggression, self-hatred and a lack of awareness of danger.

Ms Hollonds said the experience of children exposed to violence at home was not well understood and that a fragmented response meant the most vulnerable children were falling through the cracks.

“What we have is a fragmented patchwork of some services in some areas often operating in quite a siloed way,” she said.

“For example, domestic violence support for women might not always be focusing on the needs of the children. Similarly, adult services for mental health or drug and alcohol issues might not have a focus on the needs of dependent children.

“Unfortunately in some families the problems are multiple, it’s not just violence towards the other parent but there is also various kinds of abuse that the children directly experience. This multi-victimization of children requires our urgent attention.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report on Monday that found up to five children in every classroom had experienced or witnessed family violence.

The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, said children were the “invisible victims” of the domestic violence scourge and that growing up in an abusive household could have a devastating lifelong impact on a person’s mental and physical health.

She said children exposed to family violence might also feel they needed to defend the parent, or be the one to call police or an ambulance.

Crime statistics show Victoria Police were called to 65,400 family incidents in 2013-14 and that children were present in more than one-third of cases.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than half of victims abused by their partner had dependent children in their care at the time, with that figure rising to 61 per cent in cases of abuse at the hands of former partners.

Ms Hollonds said a multidisciplinary approach to domestic violence across health, child protection and family services sectors was needed to help the most disadvantaged families, who are often dealing with complex problems but face the most barriers accessing help.

“We have a late reaction policy culture and find it difficult to co-ordinate across portfolios,” she said. “The key is acting earlier because often we don’t find out about the problems people are having until they’ve escalated to a very serious stage, and by then children will have been affected.”

Read more:

The Age:  www.theage.com.au/national/kids-exposed-to-domestic-violence-more-likely-to-suffer-sexual-physical-abuse-20151208-gli3au.html#ixzz3tmyef5Ib

The Australian Institute of Family Studies:  aifs.gov.au/publications/evaluation-2012-family-violence-amendments

Lifeline for counselling and support: www.1800respect.org.au/

If you would believe you would benefit from legal advice about family violence and/or other relationship issues, please contact Vanessa Mathews, Accredited Family Law Specialist Australian family lawyers, Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists, Level 2, 599 Malvern Road, Toorak, Victoria, phone 1300 635 529, email enquiries@mflaw.com.au

Vanessa is an expert specialist Melbourne Divorce Lawyer with many years of experience in advising clients about family violence and family law issues.

Vanessa’s clients have kindly been willing to express their satisfaction with her work by writing, and consenting to have published, their testimonials on Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists, Melbourne Divorce Lawyers, website:  mathewsfamilylaw.com.au/stories/

Further testimonials as to Vanessa’s work may be found at Google Reviews:  click here

How does family violence affect children?

Often family violence and the breakdown of a relationship go hand in hand. This connection manifests in one of two ways; either the violence was the reason for the relationship breakdown, or the violence starts happening as a result of the relationship breakdown. While violence is always devastating for the victim, bear in mind that it can also have an impact on your children.

Children can be exposed to violence several ways. They can witness violence happening between their parents, they can actually be the victims of violence, and they can hear the violence occurring. Sometimes children are involved indirectly, for instance in situations where the violence occurs while the child is being held by the victim.

Psychologists have found that children who are exposed to family violence frequently display the same symptoms as children who have been abused or neglected. Essentially, the negative consequences of exposing children to any degree of family violence are undeniable. This behaviour can hinder a child’s emotional development, and there are also cognitive and social ramifications as well. Studies have further shown that the longer the violence lasts, and the more sever the conflict, the more critical the impact will be on the child.

Some signs that a child could be suffering from the negative effects of family violence have been identified as follows:

  • Fear and terror from witnessing or being directly involved in the abuse
  • Problems with relationships (including parents and siblings) which can carry on to adulthood
  • Lack of motivation at school
  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggression towards peers
  • Low self-esteem
  • Alcohol and drug abuse problems
  • Suicide attempts

Another major way in which family violence impacts the child is the extent to which the mothers’ caregiving abilities have been limited as the result of being the victim of violence. Often domestic violence can reverberate around a family, causing the otherwise non-abusive parent to abuse the children, or causing children to abuse each other. Abuse is cyclical, the effects of which can truly be devastating.

So what can you do if you fear your child is being affected by violence at home? Often victims are so emotionally and physically fatigued that they are unable to help themselves, let alone give their children the attention they need. However, it is important to recognise that while your child may not be the direct victim of violence, they can still be harmed by it, and there are steps you can take to mitigate the harm suffered by the child.

  1. Remove the child (and yourself) from the violent situation. This is often easier said than done, but the sooner you can remove yourself and your child from the violence, the less severe the long-term impact will be.
  2. Seek help. If you are the victim of domestic violence, you and your child will need to seek help in the form of protection, as well as therapy. Even if you think you have shielded your child from the family violence, chances are they have been affected in some way.
  3. Get back to a normal routine. The sooner your child has settled back into a normal routine, the quicker the recovery process can begin. Make sure the child continues to attend school, participate in extra-curricular activities, and have outings with friends.
  4. Surround the child with family and friends. Family violence often results in children feeling isolated and lonely, and withdrawing from social interactions. If you put your child in an environment where he or she is frequently around loved ones, this since of loneliness can be mitigated and the child may be less inclined to withdraw socially.

Can family violence affect court proceedings?

The Court will only hear child related proceedings if an applicant has attended family dispute resolution and obtained a certificate. A certificate is not required where child abuse or family violence is involved.

Can family violence affect parenting orders?

As a starting point it is presumed that it is in the best interests of a child for parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child. This presumption is dropped if a parent has engaged in family violence.

Can family violence affect the division of property?

If there has been violence in the relationship, this can affect the division of property. This is due to the possibility that the effects of violence may have limited the ability of a party to contribute.

Alternatively, violence or other conduct may have resulted in long term effects to the party’s health and therefore could be a factor to consider under the ‘additional factors’.

How does family violence affect women?

Family violence is a substantial and serious problem in Australia. It particularly affects women in terms of incidence, risk and ongoing consequences.

IncidenceRiskOngoing Consequences
For women in relationships:
  • 10% experience physical or sexual violence from their partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • The United Nations says domestic violence is the biggest health risk to women in Australia.
  • A Victorian study listed domestic violence as the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44.
  • 40% report at least one type of controlling behavior, including name calling, insults, put downs or behaviour that made the woman feel intimidated.
  • In 2007-2008 women were the victim in an intimate partner killing in nearly 80% of cases, this made women four times more likely to be a victim than a man.

Family violence (domestic violence)

Family violence and abuse are unfortunately a part of some relationships. When the relationship ends, or appears to be ending the violence may intensify. You do not need to live with violence, if you or your children are enduring abuse or family violence seek help from the police or your lawyer.

Family violence is harmful behaviour that is used to control, threaten, force or dominate a family member through fear. It includes:

  • physical abuse, such as hitting or pushing a person around,
  • sexual abuse, such as forcing a person to have sex,
  • emotional or psychological abuse, such as controlling who a person can see and when, or calling them names or
  • financial abuse, such as controlling a person’s money.

Family violence is also behavior that makes a family member fear for the safety of such things as:

  • their property,
  • another person or
  • an animal.

If a child hears, sees or is around family violence in any way, they are also covered by the law. This includes if a child:

  • helps a family member who has been abused,
  • sees damaged property in the family home or
  • is at a family violence incident when the police arrive.

Under family violence law, family members are:

  • people who share an intimate personal relationship,
  • parents and children, including children of an intimate partner,
  • relatives by birth, marriage or adoption or
  • people you treat like a family member – for example, a carer, guardian or person who is related to you within the family structure of your culture.

The law also protects a person from anyone who was a family member in the past.

State laws make provision for your personal safety, and can protect you from family violence or spousal abuse. If, for any reason, you fear for your own safety or the safety of your children, the lawyers at Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists Melbourne can help you to find protection from family violence. We can advise on the forms of Apprehended Violence Orders available and help you obtain an order appropriate to your circumstances and adequate for your protection. We can also advise on the effect of an AVO on post separation parenting.

If you are facing unwarranted accusations of family violence or abuse we can advise you on your options and assist you in defending the allegations.

Mathews Family Law is a leading family law firm in Melbourne. Please contact us on 1300 635 529 to speak with our family and divorce lawyers  today. You can also send through your enquiry online now and we will contact you shortly.

How is domestic violence considered in a family law property settlement?

Family violence or domestic violence often accompanies relationship breakdown. Domestic abuse can take many forms and can have disastrous effects on the lives of adults and children.

Where violence has such a profound impact on the victim that they were unable to contribute financially to the family or contribute non-financially to the welfare of the family, then violence may become a factor in a property settlement.

Alternatively, violence or other conduct may have resulted in long term effects to the party’s health and therefore could be a factor to consider under the additional factors of s 75(2).

Family Law and Mediation – Is Mediation Appropriate For Me?

Mediation (also known as ‘Family Dispute Resolution’) is a powerful tool for resolving parenting child custody and property settlement asset division disputes following separation and divorce, with a greater sense of satisfaction and ownership by the parties of the resulting agreement.

You may be feeling uncertain about whether or not FDR / mediation is ‘appropriate’ for you.

The answer to this question may or may not be obvious, for example:

  1. FDR / mediation will be obviously not appropriate if a party refuses an invitation to attend an initial intake meeting with a FDRP / mediator –all FDR / mediations commence with an initial intake session, including risk assessment. The decision to participate in FDR / mediation must be voluntary and cannot be ‘imposed’.
  2.  FDR / mediation may be appropriate even if a party expresses concern about a power imbalance and their capacity to participate – alternative modes of FDR / mediation will be considered at the initial intake meeting, including the options of: joint sessions, shuttle mediation, remote attendance via skype / telephone / email. The availability of alternative modes enhances access to FDR / mediation.
  3. FDR / mediation will be appropriate if both parties consent to attend – a choice of mode of attendance ensures that parties wishing for a non-litigious approach have the opportunity to utilize FDR / mediation notwithstanding concern about doing so.

For more than a decade Vanessa Mathews, accredited family law specialist and accredited FDRP and Mediator, has been providing FDR / mediation services in conjunction with her work as a family lawyer in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. In this time Vanessa has provided FDR / mediation to hundreds of clients. Whilst there will always be the need for the Family Court to resolve the most complex parenting child custody and property settlement asset division matters, Vanessa continues to be in awe of, and humbled by, clients who choose to take responsibility for their parenting child custody and property settlement asset division and spousal maintenance issues via FDR / mediation – rather than have a Family Court Judge do this for them.

Vanessa is available to assist you to achieve a mediated agreement to:

1. Resolve your parenting issues including:

  1. Interim issues:
    i. Child custody following separation, eg shared care
    ii. Single issue disputes, eg choice of school
  2. Final issues:
    i. Child custody when one parent wishes to relocate with the children
    ii. Ongoing parenting child custody arrangements
  3. Documentation of agreements
    i. Parenting Plan
    ii. Family Court Consent Orders

2. Negotiate property settlement and spousal maintenance issues including:

  1. Interim issues:
    i. The use or sale of the home following separation
    ii. Child support
    iii. Spousal maintenance
    iv. Disclosure and valuation of assets
  2. Final issues
    i. Property settlement asset division
    ii. Child support
    iii. Spousal maintenance
    iv. Superannuation splitting
  3. Finalization of the agreement:
    i. Family Court Consent Orders
    ii. Binding Financial Agreements

Please contact Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists on 1300 635 529 to discuss your FDR / mediation needs.

Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists offer fixed fees for FDR / Mediation.

In 2019:

  • Vanessa Mathews and Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists is rated by ‘Three Best Rated’ as one of the three best divorce lawyers in Melbourne.
  • Vanessa Mathews is recognised  by Doyle’s Guide to the Legal Professional as a ‘Recommended Family Lawyer’ and ‘Recommended Family Law Mediator’ in Melbourne.
  • Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists won the Global Law Experts Awards for ‘Best Family Law Firm Australia’ and ‘Best Family Law Mediator Australia’ awards.
  • Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists is family law firm in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne – Level 2, 599 Malvern Road, Toorak.

Family Dispute Resolution: The Basics

There are many methods to solve family law issues; couples can chose to have their disputes litigated in the court room, they can reach an agreement through mediation, or they can use other dispute resolution methods. In Australia, before you can apply to the court seeking any child related order, you must first attempt family dispute resolution. If you are able to agree on a parenting plan without involvement from the courts, such as through mediation, or you can otherwise reach a settlement, then you will not have to attend this mandatory dispute resolution. However, if you plan on using the courts to help you determine any child related issue, you must first attend family dispute resolution.

Australian law requires couples seeking the court’s help with regard to child related issues to use family dispute resolution because often through this process couples are able to reach an agreement. There is a strong preference in our country for couples to solve their family law issues without resorting to litigation.

A registered family dispute resolution practitioner who has received the necessary training will conduct the dispute resolution. She will provide information regarding the dispute resolution procedure and can also give you information about Legal Aid and contact information for local lawyers. This individual cannot, however, administer legal advice. Her role is merely to act as a neutral third party in helping the couples solve the dispute.

Once the parties have attended the dispute resolution, they dispute resolution practitioner will issue a certificate which can be filed with the court. The certificate will state if the parties attended the resolution, or why it was not appropriate to attempt dispute resolution, and must be signed by the dispute resolution practitioner. Generally, parties must provide this certificate to the court, the only exceptions are cases where there is a history of family violence, the application to the court is urgent, or there are other extreme circumstances.

After the court has received the certificate acknowledging your attempt at family dispute resolution, it will consider your application for any child related matters.

Family Dispute Resolution: The Details

Australia now requires anyone seeking a court order concerning children to first file a dispute resolution certificate with the court acknowledging that they have engaged in some type of dispute resolution. This is only necessary if the parties plan to invite the courts to make parenting determinations and other child related issues. Should you and your former partner be able to reach a settlement without seeking the court’s help, there is no requirement to attend dispute resolution.

The reason for this requirement is that Australia has a strong preference for families to reach amicable agreements without resorting to litigation. Generally, the outcome is better when parties are able to reach an agreement independent of the court’s involvement. Dispute resolution encourages early and full disclosure of relevant information, and allows parties to engage in a process that not only avoids legal action but also minimises cost.

What is a Dispute Resolution Certificate? And do I need one?

The certificate is simply a piece of paper that confirms that you and your former partner have attempted some type of family mediation with a registered family dispute resolution practitioner. It will state one of the following:

  • The other party did not attend family dispute resolution;
  • The parties attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute;
  • The parties attended but one or both of them did not make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute; or
  • The practitioner decided that the case was not appropriate for family dispute resolution

You will need a certificate before you can apply to the court to litigate any child related procedures unless:

  • The application is for consent orders
  • There is a history of risk or family violence and/or child abuse;
  • The application is urgent;
  • It is impractical to attend family dispute resolution;
  • The application alleges a contravention of a court order made within  the past 12 months;
  • An application for a parenting order has been previously filed with the court; or
  • Agreement has been reached.

If the above scenarios do not apply to your case, and you fail to file a certificate prior to seeking the court’s help in a child related proceeding, you could be forced to pay additional costs and/or be ordered to attend the required family dispute resolution.

Once provide to the court, the certificate becomes part of the file and is considered an official court document.

What is a Registered Family Dispute Practitioner?

Your dispute resolution certificate must be signed by a registered family dispute resolution provider in order to be valid. This person may also been known as a “family counsellor” or “dispute resolution practitioner.” An individual or organisation must be qualified through meeting certain standards of training, experience and suitability for inclusion on the Family Dispute Resolution Register.

A “family consultant” does not meet the necessary qualifications, however can still assist you through the process. These individuals are licensed psychologists and social workers who are contracted by the Family Court and assist and advise people involved in the proceedings, assist and advise the court, and also help the parties resolve disputes.

If you are looking for a registered family dispute practitioner you may access the register online at: fdregister.familyrelationships.gov.au/Search.aspx.

Bear in mind that not every legal practitioner or counsellor is qualified to act as a registered family dispute resolution practitioner. You may consult the above website or simply as your lawyer for a recommended family counsellor should you need dispute resolution services.

Prior to commencing the dispute resolution, the registered practitioner or counsellor must assess whether dispute resolution is appropriate in your particular case. The assessment will consider many factors, such as the history of family violence, safety of the parties, equality of bargaining power amongst the parties, emotional/psychological/physical health of the parties, and other relevant factors. Should the practitioner decide that dispute resolution is no appropriate in your situation, they will issue a certificate that says as much.

Do I need a lawyer?

It is very important to note that registered family dispute practitioners are not permitted to give any type of legal advice to the parties. These individuals are to be neutral and should only act to help the parties resolve their issues. Even if you chose a private practitioner who is in fact an lawyer, she may not administer legal advice to either party. These dispute resolution practitioners may discuss the legal process and the logistics of subsequent legal action, and they may provide you with contact information for Legal Aid or other lawyers, however they may not administer legal advice, which begs the question: Do I need an lawyer?

There is no “right” answer to this question. Each family’s circumstances are unique to their situation, so there is no universal answer to the question of whether you should employ an lawyer prior to attending dispute resolution. However, we recommend to most people that they obtain legal advice prior to the dispute resolution session. An lawyer can explain the process, the implications of the parenting decisions you make, and advise you with regard to your particular situation.

Additionally, the law allows parties to seek legal advice and attempt negotiations through lawyers before you dispute resolution session. You may address and settle all child related issues without having to attend dispute resolution – this is only a requirement if you plan to involve the courts.

What can I expect at dispute resolution? 

Dispute resolution can take several forms. If you hire a private practitioner to conduct your family dispute resolution, it may take place at a law firm, or other corporate location. However, if hiring an individual who is a private practitioner is beyond your financial reach, you can get access to dispute resolution services at Family Resource Centres or other community based organisations.

Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) are government sanctioned dispute resolution forums that encourage parents to focus on the needs of the children and reach a workable parenting arrangement. The ultimate goal of the FRC is the same as with other forms of dispute resolution – to reach an agreement without having to go to court. While FRC staff can’t provide legal advice they are trained to deal with relevant issues such as family violence and child abuse, and they can provide you with information about private practice lawyers as well as Legal Aid as well and other community legal centres.

Should you choose the FRC route, your experience may vary depending on the location you select. Each FRC is independently owned and operated and thus the intake process as well as the dispute resolution model can be different at each centre. However, the one aspect of all FRCs that is consistent at all locations is that your first three hours of services are free.

Once you have selected your family dispute resolution forum, you will be asked to sign an agreement confirming your understanding of the process. There will be a joint session, with opportunities to take a “time-out” and have one on one time with the practitioner. If your issues are not able to be resolved in your initial meeting, then you will have to schedule a subsequent session to make another attempt to resolve the issues.

Everything said during the dispute resolution process is strictly confidential, and is not admissible in open court or other proceedings, unless it relates to child abuse or the parties have consented.

Other Avenues of Dispute Resolution

Arbitration is a type of dispute resolution in which a trained professional evaluates the evidence and makes an independent determination regarding the dispute. This process is appealing to some because the parties are able to control the process by selecting the arbitrator as well as the method and timing of arbitration. More often than not, an arbitration hearing can occur significantly sooner than the courts would reach your case, and the process tends to be more private. A list of qualified arbitrators may be found at www. familylawsection.org.au.

Collaborative law is another option for dispute resolution, and allows for parties and lawyers to meet in four-way meetings. This process permits the parties to stay directly involved in the communication and negotiations. A major distinction with collaborative law is that the parties and lawyers agree in advance not to go to court.

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Vanessa Mathews
Managing Director FDRP and Mediator
BCOMM BSW LLB

Accredited Family Law Specialist, FDRP,
Mediator and Parenting Coordinator

Vanessa Mathews is the founder and managing director of Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists, and has the rare combination of social work qualifications and experience, combined with nearly 20 years’ experience as a lawyer and mediator; it makes her approach to resolving legal relationship issues both sensible and sensitive.

She is a fully accredited family law specialist, mediator, family dispute resolution practitioner and parenting coordinator with a commerce degree – adding a financially astute aspect to her practice.

Vanessa has extensive experience in complex issues that arise from relationship breakdown, and works in partnership with her clients,
who regularly describe her as empathetic

Vanessa is an active member of the family law profession and
a member of the:

  •  Law Institute of Victoria, Family Law Section
  •  Law Council of Australia, Family Law Section
  •  Resolution Institute
  •  Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators
  • National Mediation Accreditation System
  •  Relationships Australia Family Lawyers Panel
  • Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers
  •  Relationships Australia / Federal Circuit Court ‘Access Resolve’ Mediation Service
  • Relationships Australia ‘Property Mediation’ Service

Vanessa and Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists
are regularly recognised as a ‘Leading Victorian Family
Lawyer’, ‘Recommended Family Law Mediator’ and a
‘Leading Victorian Family Law Firm’ by Doyle’s Guide to
the Australian Legal Profession.

Get Started With Vanessa

Book A Free Consult

Vanessa Mathews
Managing Director FDRP and Mediator
BCOMM BSW LLB

Accredited Family Law Specialist, FDRP,
Mediator and Parenting Coordinator

Vanessa Mathews is the founder and managing director of Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists, and has the rare combination of social work qualifications and experience, combined with nearly 20 years’ experience as a lawyer and mediator; it makes her approach to resolving legal relationship issues both sensible and sensitive.

She is a fully accredited family law specialist, mediator, family dispute resolution practitioner and parenting coordinator with a commerce degree – adding a financially astute aspect to her practice.

Vanessa has extensive experience in complex issues that arise from relationship breakdown, and works in partnership with her clients,
who regularly describe her as empathetic

Vanessa is an active member of the family law profession and
a member of the:

  •  Law Institute of Victoria, Family Law Section
  •  Law Council of Australia, Family Law Section
  •  Resolution Institute
  •  Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators
  • National Mediation Accreditation System
  •  Relationships Australia Family Lawyers Panel
  • Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers
  •  Relationships Australia / Federal Circuit Court ‘Access Resolve’ Mediation Service
  • Relationships Australia ‘Property Mediation’ Service

Vanessa and Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists
are regularly recognised as a ‘Leading Victorian Family
Lawyer’, ‘Recommended Family Law Mediator’ and a
‘Leading Victorian Family Law Firm’ by Doyle’s Guide to
the Australian Legal Profession.

Get Started With Vanessa

Book A Free Consult