Family violence and child abuse

Many people who separate have experienced domestic violence, and this is a common reason why they separate. The Australian Institute of Family Studies, in a major survey published in 2009, found that 26% of mothers and 17% of fathers reported being physically hurt by their partners. A further 39% of mothers and 36% of fathers reported emotional abuse. See p. 26 here.

Different aspects of domestic violence: The ‘violence wheel’, below, is one way to think about ways in which men are violent towards women or behave badly towards them.  At the centre of the wheel is the desire to exert power and control. See further here.  Women might also behave in some of these ways towards their male partner. Such behaviour also occurs in same-sex relationships.

A lot of violence in the home arises from people losing control of themselves rather than from trying to exert control. Arguments get out of hand, with either or both people hitting each other or throwing things. Alcohol and drug abuse can also fuel violence.

Any family violence is unacceptable, and it is very damaging for the children who hear or watch violent arguments, or see their mother being assaulted.

Research indicates that it is possible for there to be an amicable separation even if one of them has engaged in violence or the former partners have had a history of being violent towards one another, but it makes it much harder. In interviews which were conducted on average fifteen months after separation, the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that 16% of mothers who reported being physically hurt by their ex-partner during the course of the relationship reported friendly relationships at the time of the interview and a further 23.5% reported having a cooperative relationship. However, nearly 20% of mothers still remained fearful of their former partners. See pp. 31-32 here. If you want to have an amicable separation, there must be no more violence or threats of violence.

If you are afraid of your former partner continuing to be violent towards you after separation, or you are worried about the safety of your children, it is very important to get help.  The police, domestic violence services and the state child protection department are there to assist you. You may also benefit from legal advice about your situation.

The courts and family violence: The courts take family violence and child abuse very seriously, especially when deciding what parenting arrangements are best for the children. One of the objects of the law is to protect children from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence. See here.

The law requires courts to make orders which, as far as possible, will avoid exposing someone to an unacceptable risk of family violence. See here. The Family Court provides a lot of information about how the law deals with family violence. You can find it here.

State courts also have powers to issue family violence orders to prevent violence between former partners. You can find general information here.