Family Violence support during COVID-19
The pressure on families since March 2020 has been intense. Specialist family lawyers, the courts and a variety of support services are assisting many families to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 restrictions and the ensuing economic impact. Not only are many couples seeking to separate, but others who have agreed parenting arrangements post separation are now struggling to facilitate those arrangements due to the pandemic restrictions.
In addition, a variety of recent studies, reports from support services and anecdotal evidence has confirmed that the COVID-19 restrictions have created conditions that have seen a sharp rise in incidents of family violence.
What are the family law courts doing to help?
On 26 March 2020, the Honourable William Alstergren, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, issued a statement providing general guidance to parents and carers during COVID-19. The Chief Justice reinforced that:
“It is imperative that… the parties ensure that the purpose or spirit of the orders are respected when considering altering arrangements, and that they act in the best interest of the children.”
In early March 2020, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia established a dedicated COVID-19 list to ensure that families needing urgent assistance could get into, and out of, the system quickly. Applications that meet the criteria are listed before the court within 3 days or less if deemed critically urgent.
The courts continue to prioritise keeping parties and their children safe from family violence, while understanding that the pandemic has only increased pressure on families. More information on the court’s Family Violence Plan can be found here
Accessing information, counselling and support services
- The government’s Money Smart website provides information, support and services for families struggling financially during COVID-19 and generally.
Most family frontline services have continued to operate during the pandemic. Assistance can be sought from:
- The Orange Door: a free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children
- Safe steps: the state-wide access point for those who need to leave a violent situation and access emergency crisis accommodation. Call safe steps on 1800 015 188 for help 24/7
- 1800RESPECT: a national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service can be contacted on 1800 737 732 to provide counselling, information and support services.
- Victoria Police: continue to address and prevent family violence. The police response remains unchanged, identifying risks and taking the appropriate action to hold perpetrators to account and keep victims safe.
- Your local Magistrates’ Court is open and continues to hear applications for Family Violence Intervention Orders, with urgent and high-risk matters being prioritised. Telephone appearances for family violence matters are available where appropriate, and support services will be provided over the phone where possible. Applications for family violence intervention orders can be made via the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria website if it is safe to do so. Applications can still be made in person at court if that is the safest option.
- WIRE: the Women’s Information Referral Service’s telephone support service remains open for all Victorian women. WIRE can provide assistance to families in financial hardship and situations of financial abuse and family violence.
- The Men’s Referral Service continues to provide help and support for people at risk of family violence on 1300 766 491.
Leaving the home
The COVID-19 restrictions, irrespective of the level of restrictions in place, do not apply to those fleeing family violence. An individual will not be fined if they need to leave their home because they are unsafe; they can leave at any time and travel as far as they need to in order to be safe.
On 17 August 2020, the Victorian Government acknowledged that “the stability and security of “home” is more important than ever for Victorians but that “unfortunately, home is not a safe place for everyone – particularly those who may be at risk of experiencing family violence”. The government has directed more than $20 million to assisting perpetrators of family violence to leave the home and move into short or long-term accommodation.
What can we do to help?
Sage Family Lawyers provides a holistic support service to our clients, we can help with:
- Referrals to accountants, financial planners, mortgage brokers, debt management specialists and associated services.
- Referrals to counsellors and support services.
- Assistance with Intervention Orders.
- Assistance with applications to the courts for the COVID-19 list, parenting arrangements, spousal maintenance applications or an application to have a violent partner removed from the family home.
- Advice about your options.