Prioritising safety in family law proceedings
We supported Mya (name changed for privacy) through both parenting and property proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court.
She said, 'I felt helpless. The perception of the family court is that it is scary. People say it is a clean slate and whatever your story or history is, it doesn’t matter.'
Mya had experienced serious family violence from her husband – he was controlling and physically hurt her. When Mya sought to end the relationship, her husband self-harmed in front of her and their children.
'I thought he was going to stab me. I’d previously gone back, but this time I decided it was enough. I rang the police and an ambulance. He was taken away and I never went back.'
'It is neverending, and I am still very anxious. But then I remind myself that people believe me.'
Victoriaa Legal Aid assisted Mya with her family law application to determine the ongoing living and care arrangements for the children.
'The family court system, I would not wish it upon anyone. It is so overwhelming, and you have to prove so many things to even get help,' said Mya.
When Mya’s case was first listed, we made submissions that the judge should consider police and medical evidence of family violence before making any other decisions. The judge did that and determined that the case should go straight to trial without the children spending any time with their father in the interim.
The Judge also expedited the final hearing so that the matter was listed for trial within six months of filing and ordered a family report to be completed by a professional with knowledge of family violence.
Mya said, 'I didn’t understand it at the time, but [handling the case in this way] changed the whole outcome of the proceedings. A court staff member said to me that "none of the procedures were followed" in my case, and the family court system is all about procedures.
'Well, the procedures need to change – they don’t fit anymore.
'This is a chance to give normality to your children, but the court doesn’t always allow it.'
At the final hearing, an order was made that meant the father wasn’t to have contact with the children, and Mya was awarded a property settlement.
'There is peace, safety and laughter in my home. We do all the normal things that other people do, and the children are doing amazingly well.'
Mya’s case demonstrates the importance of family violence being prioritised by her legal team, actively managed by the courts and for decisions about the safety of children and victim survivors to be made early in family law proceedings.
Read how we are working towards A safe, accessible and inclusive family law system with the best interests of children at its centre.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
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Reviewed 17 March 2022