COVID-19 and respondents accused of family violence

COVID-19 and respondents accused of family violence

If you are accused of using family violence during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there are four things you need to know:

  • COVID-19 is stressful for everyone. It is not an excuse for abusing family members or making them feel unsafe
  • you can get help if you think you are making your family members feel unsafe
  • whether you can live with your partner or see your children depends on your situation
  • you should get legal advice. 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, threatening or causing fear. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social or financial. It can also include damaging property or making threats to do so. For children, it includes seeing, hearing or being exposed to the after effects of this behaviour.

Controlling behaviours might increase during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Staying home and social distancing are not an excuse for using controlling behaviour.

See More information to find out more about family violence.

Can I get help with family violence?

Yes. Family violence support services are still open. Some of these services are now provided over the phone or internet.

You can still:

Our organisation and community legal centres still have duty lawyer services at Magistrates’ Courts around Victoria. You can arrange a duty lawyer:

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

Do I have to go to court?

All in-person hearings at magistrates’ courts across Victoria, will now be listed for hearing online, or by other remote means, such as over the phone. This to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 coronavirus.

If you have an upcoming court date you should contact the court immediately. It is important to make contact with the court as early as possible. The court staff will make an assessment of the best way for you to participate in the hearing.

All new family violence matters will be listed in the Online Magistrates’ Court rather than at the physical court. The Online Magistrates’ Court is linked to the local physical court. Priority will be given to urgent matters including interim family violence intervention order applications and return of family violence safety notices.

Contact the court as soon as possible if you have an upcoming court date. The court staff will tell you what your options are.

Going to at court in-person is only allowed in very limited circumstances. Contact the court to find out if you need to go to court in-person or if you can have your hearing online. If you want your matter to still go ahead, you should contact a lawyer before the court date.

You can talk to a duty lawyer on the telephone. You do not have to be at court to get help from a duty lawyer. Legal Help can help you to talk to a free duty lawyer who can assist you in court on the day. You should call Legal Help on 1300 792 387 as soon as possible before your hearing day.

It is important to get legal advice about:

  • whether you need to go to court
  • how you can take part in your court hearing online
  • your options in deciding how to respond to an intervention order application or safety notice
  • working out what will happen with children
  • any crimes the police might charge you with
  • See Get help with family violence.

If you do not take part hearing at court or online, you can find out what happened by contacting:

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

How do I participate in my online hearing?

If you have a court date relating to a family violence safety notice or an application for a family violence intervention order, you should:

  • contact us at least two days before your court date. We will connect you with a duty lawyer for your day at court who will help deal with your case on the day.
  • contact the court as soon as possible – by 10 am the day before your court date if it is the first listing of the case or three business days before your court date if it is a subsequent (later) listing of the case.

If you are not sure whether it is a first or subsequent (later) listing, you should contact the court.

  • Contact with the court can be made by filing a Notice of address for contact and service or by phoning the court. You should do this as soon as possible so the court can decide if the matter is suitable for an online hearing, or if should be heard in-person
  • the date and time for the hearing, if it will go ahead online
  • if a referral to a legal service is required.

What happens if I do not participate at all?

If you do not participate at court at all, you should still get legal advice. A lawyer can tell you what might happen if you do not participate, and what you should do after the court date. Police and court staff cannot provide legal advice.

From 12 October 2020 at regional court locations, and 9 November at metropolitan court locations, if you do not participate in their court hearing, the magistrate can still make a final intervention order against you

This means that the court can make conditions and a final order against you, without your agreement. Breaking the conditions of a court order has criminal consequences. If you are given a court order you should seek legal advice to help you understand the conditions as soon as possible.

What if I also have a criminal case?

If you have a criminal case you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The court has started hearing criminal matters again and it is important for you to prepare for the case as soon as possible.

You can get free help with criminal charges from Victoria Legal Aid by completing the Help before court intake tool. You can also contact our organisation by phone or web chat.

What if my court date is delayed?

The court has adjourned (delayed) some hearings in recent months. If your case has been adjourned, you should have already received a letter about your new hearing date.

If you have not received a letter about your new court date, contact the Magistrates’ Court immediately.

If there is an interim (temporary) intervention order against you, it will be extended to the new court date. You must continue to follow the conditions (rules) in the order, or police can charge you with a crime.

Health rules if you go to court

You can only go to court in-person if the Magistrates' Court allows you to. You must get this permission before you go to court. Contact the court before you go. The court staff will tell you if you should go or not.

There are new rules to protect the health of everyone who goes to the Magistrates’ Court. If you go to court, you must:

  • wear a face mask – the court will give you a face mask when you arrive
  • keep your distance – stay 1.5 metres away from anyone you do not live with
  • practise good hygiene – cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow and wash your hands.

You must not go to court if you feel unwell or have any symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus. Contact the Magistrates’ Court to make other arrangements.

If you are concerned about your health and going to court, call Legal Help on 1300 792 387 as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Can I see my children?

It depends on your situation.

Get legal advice about whether you can spend time with your children and other parenting issues. See Get help with family violence.

The court may encourage you to try to work things out, with help from a family dispute resolution service if needed. Our Family Dispute Resolution Service can help people resolve family law disputes. Other family dispute resolution services are also available. These services are likely to be impacted by COVID-19 coronavirus and there may be longer delays.

Can I go to counselling or Men’s Behaviour Change programs?

If you have an intervention order, you must do what it says. If your order says to go to counselling or a course you should try to do this.

If you already attend a Men’s Behaviour Change Group or counselling service, ask if they can still support you. Many services are now providing support over the phone.

If you have not enrolled in a course, contact No to Violence/Men’s Referral Service for a referral to a service near you.

Can I live with my partner?

It depends.

You must not live with your partner if:

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

You must not contact your partner if an intervention order or safety notice says you cannot.

If you do not follow the rules in the intervention order or safety notice, you are breaking the law. The police can charge you with a crime.

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

You can live with your partner if they want to live together 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 you must stay away from your partner’s home.

You may not be able to live with your partner if Child Protection are involved or there are criminal bail conditions.

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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