COVID-19 and people affected by family violence

COVID-19 and people affected by family violence

If you feel unsafe because of a family member’s behaviour during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there are four things you need to know:

  • if you are in danger, do not wait. Call the police on 000
  • coronavirus is stressful for everyone. It is no excuse for abusive behaviour or making family members feel unsafe
  • if you have a court date for a family violence intervention order or safety notice, get legal advice. Call Legal Help on 1300 792 387 or see Get help with family violence. You should get legal advice, even if police tell you that you do not need to go to court
  • you can still get help from police, family violence support services, housing and legal services. See Get help with family violence.

What is family violence?

Family violence is harmful behaviour by a person to their family members. It includes being violent, abusive, controlling or causing fear. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social or financial. It can also include damaging property. For children, it includes seeing, hearing or being exposed to this behaviour.

People who use family violence may increase their controlling behaviour during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. They may use the new rules about staying at home and social distancing as an excuse to increase their controlling behaviour. This might include:

  • stopping you from leaving the house to visit a doctor
  • threatening to expose you or the children to coronavirus
  • forcing you or the children to stay outside the house when you do not want to
  • controlling who you speak to by phone or online.

See More information to find out more about family violence.

Can I leave the house to get help with family violence?

Yes. New laws about COVID-19 coronavirus do not stop you leaving your house to:

  • go to a police station to report family violence
  • go to a court for a family violence application or hearing, or to get advice from a duty lawyer
  • get support, accommodation and refuge if you need to move out of your home.

Can I get help while I am at home?

Family violence support services are still open. They are helping people over the phone or internet.

If it is safe, you can:

  • contact Safe Steps, a family violence response centre for women and children. Safe Steps is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and takes enquiries by phone or email. 
  • get free legal advice, information and referrals from our phone line, website or web chat.

For more information about services that can help, see Get help with family violence.

Do I have to go to court?

I applied for an intervention order

If you applied for a family violence intervention order, you might need to go to court on your hearing date. You will not need to go to court if you have a duty lawyer representing you. You can arrange a duty lawyer by calling Legal Help on 1300 792 387.

Police applied for an intervention order for me

If police made a family violence safety notice or applied for an intervention order for you, you can choose whether to go to court.

If you decide to go to court, you can speak with a duty lawyer to get legal advice.

If you decide not to go to court, you can still get legal advice and a duty lawyer can still help you.

It is important to get legal advice about your rights and choices. You should also get legal advice about other issues, like working out what will happen with children. This is very important if police have reported the family violence to child protection.

Police and court staff cannot give legal advice.

How can I find out what happened at court?

If you decide not to go to court, you can find out what happened by contacting:

  • police, if they applied for an intervention order for you
  • your duty lawyer, if you had one
  • the Magistrates’ Court.

Can I get help at court?

Yes. There have been changes to services at court in response to COVID-19 coronavirus, but you can still get help.

You can speak by phone with:

  • a duty lawyer to get free legal advice. Victoria Legal Aid and community legal centres still have duty lawyer services at Magistrates’ Courts around Victoria
    • before your court date – you can arrange a duty lawyer by calling Legal Help on 1300 792 387
    • on your court date – you can speak with a duty lawyer by calling your nearest Victoria Legal Aid office
  • the Family Violence Applicant Practitioner to help you get support and plan for your safety. Court staff can tell you how to get help from the Family Violence Applicant Practitioner
  • a Court Network volunteer. Call 0417 607 004 or email admin@courtnetwork.com.au.

What if my court date is delayed?

The court is adjourning (delaying) some hearings but cases that are considered high risk will go ahead. If your case is adjourned, the court will let you know the new date for your hearing.

The court might have sent you a letter saying your case was adjourned to 15 June 2020. The court is changing that hearing date for many people. The court will send you a letter to tell you your new hearing date. You do not need to go to court on 15 June 2020 but must attend on the new hearing date.

If you do not get a letter about your new court date by 8 June 2020, contact the Magistrates’ Court.  

If it is not safe for you to get a letter about your new court date, tell the Magistrates’ Court urgently.

If you feel unsafe at any time, call the police on 000.

If the police are worried about your safety, they can make a safety notice to protect you immediately. A safety notice can tell your family member to stay away from your home or stop contacting you. Your family member must obey the safety notice or police can charge them with a crime.

If you have an interim (temporary) intervention order, that will last until your next court date. Your family member must obey the interim intervention order or police can charge them with a crime.

If you have an interim intervention order, but you think it needs to be changed so you will be safer, you can apply to the court to vary (change) it.

If your family member breaks the rules in the intervention order or safety notice, call the police.

If your case is urgent or you need to change your interim order to make you safer, contact the Magistrates’ Court.

Can I live with my partner?

It depends.

You can live with your partner if you want to and:

  • you do not have a family violence intervention order or police safety notice
  • you have an intervention order or safety notice, but it does not say they have to stay away from your home.

You cannot live with your partner if:

  • there is a family violence intervention order that says your partner must not come to your home
  • there is a police safety notice that says your partner must not come to your home.

If your partner does not follow the rules in the intervention order or safety notice, they are breaking the law. The police can charge them with a crime.

If you want to live together or have contact with your partner, you can apply to vary (change) the order at your local Magistrates’ Court.

What about parenting?

It depends on your situation and what is safe for the children.

The court might stop or change a parenting order if the court does not think it is safe.

If the court thinks it is safe, an intervention order may let a parent see or communicate with their children, if there is a written agreement or parenting order.

Victoria Legal Aid's Family Dispute Resolution Service can help people reach parenting agreements safely. Other family dispute resolution services can also help. These services are likely to be impacted by COVID-19 coronavirus and there may be longer delays.

If you are worried that your children might get hurt physically or psychologically by their other parent, get legal advice and other support quickly. See Get help with family violence.

More information

Learn more about legal issues and COVID-19 coronavirus

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Family violence intervention orders

Download or order our free Family violence and intervention order publications

Where to get help

See Get help with family violence

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