“The support is there but people have to do it right and in domestic violence situations it’s hard to do it right; you’ve got fears and are often receiving threats but it’s not going to go away”.
– Voula.

A Senate inquiry into the legislation surrounding family violence may change the legal definition of family violence on a federal level, and also the process of obtaining intervention orders.
A Greek Australian woman, Voula, (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy), believes intervention orders are too difficult for women to attain. “The courts or police should be able to issue instant intervention orders if they can see abuse and then later give the opportunity for the man to dispute the claims,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about parents fighting with lawyers, it should be about protecting kids.”
Divorcee Nick, (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy), told Neos Kosmos that the laws in place to protect women and children from family violence are oft-times used to pervert the course of justice.
“The legal system is supposed to presume innocence until the person is proven guilty, but it is so easy for someone to take out an intervention order against you. It’s as simple as walking into a court and applying for one; there’s no burden of proof, there’s nothing,” Nick said.
“Basically what’s happening is there is a bias against men and women can make claims against men and the men have to prove otherwise. It’s a perversion of the legal system; there needs to be some burden of proof.”
Nick argued that the women who really need these laws are the ones who don’t use them because they don’t even have the chance to reach for a phone, let alone take out an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO).
“From what I’ve heard from solicitors while having this trial and tribulation in my own case, basically the woman does not have to prove anything, they can manipulate the system and claim all sorts of things,” Nick said. “I’ve heard crazy stories where women’s allegations were only ever exposed to be fabricated and concoctions of their devious imaginations,” he said. “In many cases the stories turn out to be flat out lies”.
Defending lies in court is a waste of time and money, Nick argued. “It’s ridiculous, it’s a waste of time and how can you defend yourself? It’s a he says/she says situation,” he said. “It shouldn’t be this easy to take out an AVO, and after a divorce many times women do get vindictive and unfortunately what happens is they use the kids as leverage and pawns in their vindictive endeavours.”
In his own experiences Nick said he had been told the Family Court is trying to balance the needs of the mother with the needs of the children to ensure children have a healthy relationship with both their mother and father. “That’s the main concern for the courts, but nonetheless if, for example, the child is too young to really speak up and voice their needs, the mouthpiece for the child is usually the mother, and they can claim anything they want,” he said. In these cases the court will generally not make a decision and instead refer the matter to a court appointed lawyer. “This is usually very complicated, the parents have to go to psychologists and there are immense costs,” Nick said.
“I understand the need for protection, however there needs to be some form of overhaul to the system where women need to meet a certain burden of proof; it’s too easy the way it is right now.”
In contrast to this, following her own traumatic experience, Voula believes the current system in place for Interim Family Court Orders is very good. “I went through a situation myself with getting an interim family court order after my son came home from a weekend at his father’s battered and bruised from top to toe,” she told Neos Kosmos. “Everybody bags the DHS [Department of Human Services] and the police, but what they need to understand is there is a good system of professionals there and as long as you do what you’re told and do it right you won’t have an issue.”
Women who encounter problems with the system are often those that don’t seek protection until it’s too late, she added. “At that stage it’s too far gone for anyone to believe you.”
During information seminars at the women’s domestic violence centre Voula was told that violent patterns of behaviour tend to repeat themselves with access to children and that parents need to look out for telltale signs. “I learnt that list of signs off by heart so when my son came home bruised I rang DHS immediately, they spoke to me and put me through to a policewoman, who was the most sympathetic person I’ve ever encountered,” she said. The police directed Voula on what steps to take, suggesting she ask her son questions, persuade him to see the police and make a statement, visit the doctor, and write down everything that had happened.
“This all happened on a Saturday, my son was due to go back to his father’s on Thursday, but by then the police had instructed the school to keep my son in the staff-room after school and not allow his father to pick him up,” Voula said. “We went to family court and he was denied access.” Voula’s ex-husband was also charged with assault.
While legal systems are in place to protect women, they need to be educated to empower themselves, Voula said. “Courts and the police will listen to you; we need to be addressing a campaign to women teaching them and also showing men that they better watch out.”
Voula believes schools, as the first line of communication with children, should also have the power to intervene when needed.
“The support is there but people have to do it right and in domestic violence situations it’s hard to do it right; you’ve got fears and are often receiving threats but it’s not going to go away,” she said. “I’m 47 and have known my ex-husband since I was 16 and the violent pattern of behaviour was there then, it doesn’t change; people don’t change.”
The Senate first referred the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 for inquiry and report on 25 March 2011 and is taking submissions from the public until 29 April. The bill makes amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 to prioritise the safety of children in parenting matters where children and families are at risk of violence and abuse. The bill also makes several technical amendments which seek to correct drafting and minor policy matters, and provide other efficiencies for the courts and litigants.