Family violence unfortunately is an all too common scenario amongst WA families, although perhaps it’s behind closed doors. Changes to the legislation means that there will be more protection for families in violent domestic situations.
Daniel Sampson has reviewed the changes and explains below…
The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 was passed on 7 December 2011 and contains a number of amendments designed to strengthen the Act in relation to the protection of children in environment where family violence has been present.
One of the primary considerations of the Family Court in determining care will be the protection of a child from abuse or family violence or exposure to abuse or family violence.
One of the significant features of the Act is its reconsideration of the definitions of ‘abuse’ and ‘family violence’ within the context of the act. Where previously one would usually associate these with physical violence the new definitions broaden the concepts of abuse.
The Act now defines ‘abuse’ as the following:
- Sexual abuse and exploitation of children;
- Causing a child to suffer serious psychological harm, including where the child is exposed to family violence; and
- Serious neglect of the child.
The Act’s new definition of family violence takes into account not only the physical or mental aspects that may be associated with intimate associations of violence but also the fear that a party may perpetrate against another;
The Act now defines ‘family violence’ as violent, threatening or any other type of behaviour that coerces or controls a family member or which causes the family member to be fearful.
The Act provides the following examples as a guide but does not intend the examples to be exhaustive preserving the philosophy of the breath of the family violence definition:
- Sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour;
- Repeated derogatory taunts
- Intentionally damaging or destroying property
- Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal; or
- Unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had
- Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support; or
- Preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture;
- Unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, of his or her liberty.
Interestingly, the act now recognises a concept of ‘economic violence’ previous identified by psychologists, social scientist and academics working within the area. The new definition will now give Family Law Courts cause to consider the effect of these acts on children and ultimately how they will influence whether a child is protected.
The exposure of children to acts of family violence is also dealt with in the new amendments. Exposure will include seeing and hearing or otherwise being exposed to family violence.
Examples that the Act provides are:
- overhearing threats of death or personal injury by a member of the child’s family towards another member of the child’s family; or
- seeing or hearing an assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family; or
- comforting or providing assistance to a member of the child’s family who has been assaulted by another member of the child’s family; or
- cleaning up a site after a member of the child’s family has intentionally damaged property of another member of the child’s family; or being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving the assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family.
While the act has passed the provisions will not become part of the Family Law Act until June 2012. However the court has the power to consider the definitions of abuse and family violence at the time it hears the matter. The amendments do not affect previous judgements and do not give parties the right to appeal.
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