It is estimated that one in three women experience physical violence throughout Australia, and with such disturbing statistics, robust domestic violence laws are essential and every jurisdiction has laws prohibiting family violence, which this piece will cover.
What is domestic violence?
Broadly speaking, domestic violence refers to any person who is in either an intimate or familial relationship where violence, or any other types of behaviours used to control and dominate the person is occurring. Although physical violence is commonly associated with domestic violence, other types of behaviours may also be deemed to be examples of domestic violence and can include:
- sexual abuse;
- emotional or psychological abuse;
- verbal abuse;
- financial abuse;
- isolating the person socially or geographically;
- cruelty to pets.
All Australian jurisdictions have specific laws aimed at curbing domestic violence, and such laws support the principles found in the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
What happens if someone suspects child abuse?
Section 67ZA(2) of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) has made notification to a prescribed child welfare authority mandatory for certain professionals if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child has been abused, or is at risk of being abused.
The class of persons required to mandatorily report child abuse if in the course of performing their duties or functions, has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child has been abused, or is at risk of being abused are the following classes of professionals:
- Registrars or a Deputy Registrar of a Registry of the Family Court of Australia;
- Registrars or a Deputy Registrar of the Family Court of Western Australia;
- Registrars of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia;
- family consultants;
- family counsellors;
- family dispute resolution practitioners;
- lawyers independently representing a child's interests.
Beyond federal legislation, the States and Territories also requires teachers, doctors, other medical and mental health care professionals, and community service employees to report child abuse if there are reasonable grounds for concern, irrespective of any confidentiality obligations.
“Interested person” and mandatory reporting obligations
In addition to certain persons, an “interested person” in proceedings is also compelled to report occurrences of child abuse. An “interested person” is anyone who is a party to the proceedings, and who is independent of the child’s lawyer.
When looking at the reporting requirements in relation to an “interested person”, the provisions set out two options. Section 67Z of the Act requires an “interested person” who has made an allegation about actual or a risk of abuse to file a “Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)” to the court.
Alternatively, if child abuse occurs, or would occur due to exposure to family violence, an “interested person” is required to file a Form 4, which would then be served on the alleged perpetrator even if the person was not a party in the case. The Form 4 must also be served to the independent child’s lawyer.
What should be included in a Form 4 application: an “interested person” who intends to file a “Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)” should include evidence detailing the alleged actions per Family Law Rule 2.04D. The form should detail the alleged abuse, whether any attempts at dispute resolution were undertaken, any advice received on community “services and options” if they were available to the victim, and if there are any risks in a delay of application.
Under certain circumstances besides a Form 4, an “Application in a Case” application may be required for interim protection orders.