Family Violence Violence & Separation/Divorce

Financial Abuse

financial abuse

Australian family law and the family law courts recognize the close connection between family breakdown and family violence, and the resultant impact this has on victims of family violence – both adults and children.

Often when we hear references to family violence, our minds instinctually think of ‘violence’ in the traditional sense and behaviors such as:

  • Physical abuse (such as hitting or pushing someone);
  • Sexual abuse; or
  • Emotional and/or psychological abuse (such as yelling or insulting someone, undermining their self-worth or humiliating a person).

Australian family law legislation provides a wide interpretation and definition of the term ‘family violence’ and The Family Law Act and the family law courts recognize financial abuse (or economic abuse) as a form of family and domestic violence.

Financial abuse (or economic abuse) occurs when you are unreasonably denied financial autonomy that you would otherwise have had, and are denied any control over your personal and/or the relationship’s finances. In many cases, this type of abuse is subtle and not obvious, and can be difficult to recognize. Financial abuse can also manifest slowly over the course of a relationship – steadily ‘creeping up’ until it becomes ‘the new normal’.

Some common examples of financial abuse include (but are not limited to):

  1. Being denied financial autonomy and control of your own finances (e.g. a spouse/domestic partner taking complete control of the relationship’s money and finances).
  2. Being provided with inadequate funds and having money withheld to meet your (and your children’s) reasonable living expenses. This is especially the case in circumstances where you are entirely or partially dependent on your spouse/domestic partner for that financial support.
  3. Being constantly monitored, harassed and questioned about what you s pend  money on.
  4. Having access to your bank accounts and credit/debit cards restricted  or blocked.
  5. Being forbidden to work and earn income of your own.
  6. Having your pay taken from you and your access to it restricted.
  7. Being made to feel that you are irresponsible and incapable of  handling money.
  8. Your spouse/domestic partner refusing to work or contribute to  household expenses.
  9. Your spouse/domestic partner incurring debts in your name (this is  related to identity theft).
  10. Being forced to sign financial documents (such as mortgage documents or personal loans) without being allowed to read or consider them.

Financial abuse is often accompanied by other forms of family violence, such as verbal abuse (e.g. angry outbursts and threats of violence), as well as physical abuse. Experiencing financial abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, and the affected family members often aren’t aware of how to seek and access support.

Our accredited family law specialists are available to assist in matters involving family violence and financial abuse, along with all other facets of your family law matter. If you would like to speak to one of our family law specialists about any of your family law issues, please contact us on 1300 635 529 or email for a free telephone consultation.

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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:

The Australian Institute of Family Studies:

Lifeline for counselling and support:

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

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:

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

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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.
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Grounds For Not Returning Child to Home Country

State Central Authority & Papastavrou [2008] FamCA 1120

If there exists clear evidence of grave risk of harm to the child should the child be returned to its home country, the court may prevent the child from being returned.  This is a high standard to meet, and will only apply in exceptional circumstances.

In the Papastavrou case, there was an Australian mother and a Greek father who had two children, both born in Greece. The mother, who was experiencing emotional and medical problems, was instructed by her doctor that she should return to Australia because she required the physical and emotional support of her family.

During the proceedings regarding whether the children should be returned to their home state of Greece, the mother put on compelling evidence of family violence. The evidence showed that the father repeatedly abused her, occasionally in front of the children, and had abused one of the children as well. After hearing the evidence the judge decided to reject the father’s application seeking to have the children returned to Greece.

The evidence allowed the judge to conclude that the father’s history of violence constituted a future risk of harm to the children. The mother convinced the judge that the Greek authorities would do little or nothing to protect her and the children, as they had failed to take action when she had called them in the past. The mother also provided the court with expert testimony discussing inherent issues with laws enforcing domestic violence in Greece. Additionally, the mother had developed a medical condition making her more vulnerable to future violent attacks, and this also compounded the impact future violence may have on the children.

In this case the judge was able to ultimately conclude that there was in fact a serious risk of harm to the mother and children if they were to be returned to Greece, and denied the father’s request for such.

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Evidence Required

Goode & Goode [2006] FLC 93-286

This is a case illustrating the importance of having evidence if alleging that acts of family violence have occurred.

A husband and wife separated after ten years of marriage in 2006. The children, ages 2 and 8 lived with their mother and spent time with their father alternating weekends. The father argued that the mother was preventing the children from spending additional time with him, while the mother argued that the parties had agreed to this arrangement. The mother sought an order finalizing this alleged arrangement, while the father sought an order for an equal share care arrangement

The mother alleged that the father had engaged in family violence during their relationship.  Normally, in custody disputes, the judge must apply a rebuttable presumption that it is best for parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. However, a major exception to this presumption is where family violence has occurred.

In this case, the judge was unable to conclude that the allegations of family violence were true. Because there was a dispute as to whether the violence occurred, the judge was conflicted as to whether the aforementioned presumption should apply.  The trial judge ultimately concluded that the allegations alone did not satisfy that violence had occurred. The mother lacked sufficient evidence to prove any acts of violence, and her words alone were not enough for the judge to be satisfied on reasonable grounds that violence had occurred.

The issue of alleged violence failed to make a major impact on the outcome of the case; the court concluded that the presumption should not apply in cases where there is even a dispute regarding whether family violence occurred. However, this case still illustrates the principal that when alleging family violence, you must be prepared to show evidence that allows the judge to make a finding that family violence did in fact occur.

a finding that family violence did in fact occur. The trial court issued an order allowing the children to live with the mother, but spend time with the father on alternating weekends, as well as Monday and Tuesday evenings, and on school holidays. Had there truly been a history of family violence, it would not be safe or appropriate for the children to spend that much time unsupervised with their father.

Therefore, if there is a history of family violence in your situation, be prepared to put on evidence that allows the judge to agree with your allegation.

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What if my spouse is violent?


Hi. I’m Vanessa Mathews from Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists and I want to discuss family or domestic violence with you today.

If you’re in a violent or abusive situation within your home, please spend a few minutes listening to this video to learn more ab