Responding to family violence

A survey of family law practices and experiences
Evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments – October 2015

7. Parents' experiences

This chapter examines parents' experiences of using family law services after the 2012 family violence reforms. The evidence presented in this chapter augments the insights derived from the Survey of Practices by examining professional practices from the perspective of clients. The methodology for this aspect of the Survey of Practices was described in Chapter 1. To recap briefly, the findings discussed are based on data derived from telephone interviews with 2,473 separated parents.18 These interviews were part of the data collection for the Survey of Recently Separated Parents 2014. In the first part of the fieldwork, parents were asked whether they had used any family law services in relation to their separation. Those who had used particular services were asked a detailed series of questions about their experiences with those services. The selection of parents and services was based on random allocation.

This chapter begins with an overview of the pattern of service use evident among this sample of parents. The sections that follow examine parents' experiences with specific services.19 The areas examined cover a range of issues, including referral pathways, decisions made about parenting arrangements after accessing the service, satisfaction with that service and whether they were asked about or disclosed family violence to that service.

The analysis in this chapter depicts response patterns analysed according to parent gender and whether or not the participant had experienced family violence from the other parent before, during or since the separation. This is explained further above Table 7.2.

Specific services that are the main focus of this chapter are family dispute resolution practitioners, FRCs, lawyers/legal services, courts and domestic/family violence services.20

7.1 Parents' use of family law services

Of the parents interviewed, 77% had accessed at least one service during or since their separation, with both fathers and mothers accessing an average of three services (Table 7.1).21 Among the 77% of parents who had contact with at least one service, the vast majority of both mothers and fathers had accessed a lawyer (83% and 80% respectively). The other services commonly used were dispute resolution/mediation (fathers, 59%; mothers, 49%), FRCs (fathers, 50%; mothers, 43%) and the courts22 (fathers, 31%; mothers, 28%).

Table 7.1: Family law services/programs accessed by parents, by gender
Service accessed Fathers (%) Mothers (%) All parents (%)
Notes: a Although these response options were recorded, they were not included in the subsequent service-related questions as they were not considered to fall within the parameters of the survey (i.e., specific family law related services). Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Number of services accessed
No services 23.9 22.9 23.4
1 service 18.3 18.0 18.1
2 services 12.6 14.7 13.7
3 services 11.6 11.9 11.8
4 services 11.6 9.6 10.5
5 services 7.0 8.7 7.9
6+ services 15.0 14.3 14.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Average number of services accessed 2.7 2.7 2.7
Total (n) 1,626 1,802 3,428
Specific services accessed
At least one service 76.0 77.1 76.6
Family dispute resolution (FDR)/mediation 59.1 48.5 53.5
Lawyers/legal service 80.1 83.8 82.1
Court 30.8 28.3 29.5
FRCs 49.8 43.1 46.3
Family relationship counselling service 27.6 22.0 24.6
Domestic/family violence (DFV) service 4.9 19.0 12.3
Men and family relationship counselling service 6.2 0.6 3.2
Mensline 12.7 0.8 6.4
Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL) 8.4 10.9 9.7
Parenting Orders Program (POP) 4.1 3.1 3.6
Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program (PSCPP) 5.2 4.4 4.8
Supporting Children After Separation Program (SCASP) 6.0 6.4 6.2
Children's Contact Service (CCS) 2.6 3.5 3.1
Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) 4.5 3.1 3.8
Family consultant (FC)/single expert witness (SEW) 5.5 4.8 5.1
Psychologist/psychiatrist a 36.1 45.6 41.1
Other service a 16.4 20.6 18.6

Consistent with the purpose of the programs, a higher proportion of fathers than mothers accessed a men and family relationship counselling service or Mensline (6% and 13%, compared with 1% of mothers), while just less than one in five mothers accessed a domestic or family violence service (19%, compared with 5% of fathers).

Relatively similar proportions of mothers and fathers reported accessing more specific separation services and programs, such as the Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program (PSCPP) (4-5%), Supporting Children After Separation Program (SCASP) (6%), Parenting Orders Program (POP) (3-4%) or a family consultant/single expert witness (FC/SEW) (5-6%).

Earlier in the survey, parents had been asked a series of questions relating to family violence they might have experienced from the other parent either before/during or since separation. The questions included a list of items that constituted emotional abuse, followed by whether the other parent had physically hurt them or tried to force them into unwanted sexual activity. The analysis in this section focuses on:

  • parents who reported physical hurt and unwanted sexual activity (attempts to force) before or during separation and after separation;
  • parents who reported being subjected to emotional abuse alone before or during separation and after separation; and
  • parents who reported no violence.

A clear theme emerged in patterns of parents' contact with services in relation to their reports of experiencing family violence before/during separation. For all services, higher proportions of parents who reported accessing each service had experienced family violence, compared with parents who had not experienced any family violence (Table 7.2). The results showed that parents who had experienced family violence before/during separation tended to access more services than parents who had not experienced any family violence in this period. That is, parents who had experienced physical violence before/during separation accessed an average of four services in relation to their separation, those who had experienced emotional abuse alone accessed an average of three services, while parents who had not experienced any family violence accessed an average of one service.

Table 7.2: Family law services/programs accessed by parents, by experiences of family violence before/during separation
Services Physical violence (%) Emotional abuse alone (%) No violence (%)
Notes: Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
No. of services accessed
No services 9.4 15.9 43.2
1 service 10.4 18.9 23.1
2 services 13.0 14.5 13.2
3 services 12.9 13.7 8.6
4 services 10.9 14.2 5.9
5 services 13.5 8.5 2.9
6+ services 29.9 14.4 3.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Average number of services 4.2 2.9 1.4
Total (n) 1,626 1,802 3,428
Specific services accessed
At least one service 90.6 84.1 56.9
Family dispute resolution (FDR)/mediation 62.6 55.1 39.8
Lawyers/legal service 86.6 84.5 72.1
Court 44.8 27.7 14.2
FRCs 55.0 47.7 33.2
Family relationship counselling service 30.5 25.1 16.6
Domestic/family violence (DFV) service 28.9 7.5 1.1
Men and family relationship counselling service 4.4 3.3 1.7
Mensline 8.7 6.5 3.5
Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL) 16.0 8.2 4.7
Parenting Orders Program (POP) 6.1 3.3 1.1
Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program (PSCPP) 7.2 4.8 1.8
Supporting Children After Separation Program (SCASP) 9.6 5.5 3.4
Children's Contact Service (CCS) 6.4 2.3 0.3
Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) 8.2 2.6 0.5
Family consultant (FC)/single expert witness (SEW) 10.8 3.7 0.9
Psychologist/psychiatrist a 51.5 40.4 29.7
Other service a 21.6 18.5 15.2

Further, almost one in three parents who experienced physical violence before/during separation accessed six or more services (30%), compared with 14% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone, and 3% of parents who had not experienced family violence.

Forty-five per cent of parents who had experienced physical violence (with or without emotional abuse) before/during separation had accessed the court, followed by 28% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse and 14% who had not experienced any family violence.

Among parents who had experienced some form of family violence, more than three times the number of parents who had experienced physical violence accessed a domestic or family violence service, than those who had experienced emotional abuse alone 29% and 8% respectively). Similarly, almost four times the number of parents who had experienced physical violence accessed a family consultant or single expert witness, compared with those who had experienced emotional abuse alone (11% and 4% respectively).

The pattern that emerged when analysing parents' access to services by their experiences of family violence since separation was similar to that which emerged when analysing the data according to their experiences before/during separation (i.e., higher service use for those experiencing violence), though with higher proportions among those who had experienced family violence since separation, compared with those who had experienced family violence before/during separation (Table 7.3).

Table 7.3: Family law services/programs accessed by parents, by experiences of family violence since separation
Services Physical violence (%) Emotional abuse alone (%) No violence (%)
Notes: Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
No. of services accessed
No services 8.7 11.5 43.2
1 service 8.3 16.2 22.9
2 services 11.3 14.2 13.5
3 services 14.0 13.1 9.4
4 services 12.8 13.8 5.5
5 services 15.5 10.4 2.8
6+ services 29.4 20.8 2.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Average number of services 4.3 3.5 3.5
Total (n) 1,626 1,802 3,428
Specific services accessed
At least one service 91.2 84.9 51.4
Family dispute resolution (FDR)/mediation 66.9 59.0 37.0
Lawyers/legal service 88.0 85.6 72.3
Court 47.5 33.0 15.9
FRCs 56.6 51.3 31.7
Family relationship counselling service 35.1 27.6 14.7
Domestic/family violence (DFV) service 32.2 13.8 2.6
Men and family relationship counselling service 4.6 3.7 1.9
Mensline 8.3 7.6 3.2
Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL) 18.6 11.1 3.8
Parenting Orders Program (POP) 5.8 4.6 0.7
Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program (PSCPP) 6.6 6.0 1.3
Supporting Children After Separation Program (SCASP) 9.5 7.6 2.2
Children's Contact Service (CCS) 5.0 3.9 0.5
Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) 9.5 4.3 0.7
Family consultant (FC)/single expert witness (SEW) 9.1 6.6 0.7
Psychologist/psychiatrist a 45.5 44.8 31.5
Other service a 23.6 19.9 14.3

For example, 67% of parents who experienced physical violence since separation, and 59% of parents who experienced emotional abuse alone, accessed FDR, compared with 63% and 55% respectively of those who experienced these types of family violence before/during separation.

Similarly, the pattern in the number of services parents accessed by their experiences of family violence since separation, was in line with parents' reports of family violence before/during separation, with higher proportions of parents who had experienced family violence having accessed multiple services, compared with parents who had not experienced family violence. Conversely, nearly half the parents (43%) who had not experienced any family violence since separation reported not having accessed any services in relation to their separation, compared with those who had experienced some form of family violence. This compares with 9% of parents who had experienced physical violence and 12% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse since separation, not having accessed any services.

Analyses from this point forward are based only on responses from parents who accessed specific family law services. That is, of the 3,428 parents asked about their contact with services for the purposes of the Parents' Experiences of Services module of the SRSP 2014, 2,473 reported having accessed a service.23 A sample profile, including a summary of key demographic characteristics and the distribution of service use appears in Chapter 1 at section 1.2.3.

7.2 Parents' pathways to accessing family law services

Parents were asked how they came to access the relevant service, with response options including referral from a legal or non-legal professional, referral from a friend or relative, or that they located the service themselves. Parents could name more than one pathway, and could specify other reasons why they accessed the service, such as for financial reasons or convenience. Table 7.4 shows that the most common pathway for parents was to find and contact the service themselves (43%), followed by family or friends (16%). Lawyers were the most common professionals named by parents to have referred them to a service (12%).

The most notable gender difference in pathways to services was that a higher proportion of fathers than mothers reported that their former partner had organised for them to attend the service (13% compared with 7%, respectively).

While self-referral was the most commonly named pathway to accessing services overall, variation emerged in the patterns of referral when examined by parents' experiences of family violence.

Table 7.4: How parents came to access the service, by gender
  Fathers (%) Mothers (%) All parents (%)
Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). More than one response was allowed, therefore percentages do not total 100%.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Self-referral 42.6 42.4 42.5
Friend or relative 15.3 17.1 16.2
Other parent organised it 12.9 7.0 9.8
Lawyer 12.0 12.7 12.3
Referral by other service 5.7 8.6 7.2
Referred by police 0.7 3.3 2.1
Appointed by court 1.9 2.2 2.0
Financial reasons 2.0 2.2 2.1
Other pathway 9.3 9.4 9.3
Don't know 3.1 2.7 2.9
Total (N) 1,179 1,294 2,473

Figure 7.1 shows that a higher proportion of parents who had not experienced family violence before/during separation self-referred (49%), compared with parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone (42%) or physical violence (38%).

Conversely, higher proportions of parents who had experienced family violence before/during separation were referred to the service by a lawyer or the police.

Very similar patterns emerged when examining parents' pathways to services by experiences of family violence since separation (data not shown).

Figure 7.1: Pathways to accessing service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation

Figure 7.1: Pathways to accessing service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). More than one response was allowed, therefore percentages do not total 100%.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

7.3 Influence of services on parents' decision making

When parents were asked whether accessing the service had made any difference to decisions they made about parenting arrangements for their child/children, around two-thirds of parents reported that it had. The list of examples in Table 7.5 was read out and parents could select more than one response, as most of them were not mutually exclusive.

Table 7.5: Influence of services on parents' decisions about parenting arrangements, by gender
Decision after accessing service Fathers (%) Mothers (%) All parents (%)
Notes: a In response to interviewer feedback after the pilot survey fieldwork, this response was added to the questionnaire (though not read out to the participants) to be used where a parent felt their contact with the service in question was too limited to provide any further information of value. In these cases, any decisions that the service did influence were recorded, after which these parents were only asked one further question about the service, regarding their overall satisfaction with it (see section 7.4). This approach was taken as part of quality assurance measures to ensure that the data collected best reflected the views of parents about their experiences of the service. All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). More than one response was allowed, therefore percentages do not total 100%.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Agreed to a shared-care arrangement 21.3 20.1 20.7
Agreed to less time with child 10.8 5.3 7.9
Opposed a shared-care arrangement 3.0 5.8 4.5
Sought more time with child 17.6 6.6 11.9
Sought supervised time between other parent and child 2.0 4.6 3.4
Sought supervised changeover 2.1 2.7 2.4
Sought no parenting time for other parent 1.0 1.9 1.5
Took steps to protect self/child 6.9 14.5 10.8
Took steps to change own behaviour 7.6 8.3 7.9
Other decision 7.7 9.7 8.8
Had very limited contact with this service (avoid) a 5.7 6.3 6.0
No decisions 43.7 45.0 44.4
Don't know 2.5 3.2 2.8
Refused 0.9 0.2 0.5
Total (N) 1,179 1,294 2,473

It is worth noting that the decisions reported by parents that are represented in the figures and tables throughout this section do not necessarily represent the ultimate outcome of parenting negotiations. That is, some aspects of the data might appear counter-intuitive, but these situations are complex, and the analyses presented in the forthcoming SRSP 2014 report will support a better understanding of these patterns.

One in five parents (21%) decided to agree to a shared-care arrangement24 and around 5% of parents decided to oppose shared care. A higher proportion of fathers than mothers decided to seek more time with their child (18%, compared with 7% of mothers) as a result of accessing the service. Conversely, a higher proportion of mothers decided to take steps to protect themselves and/or their child after accessing the service (15% compared with 7% of fathers).

A number of differences were evident in the analyses undertaken of the decisions parents reported making after accessing the service, according to whether they also reported experiencing family violence (Figure 7.2). More than half the parents who had not experienced any family violence before/during separation (54%) reported that the service made no difference to decisions they made about parenting arrangements.

One in five parents who reported experiencing physical violence before/during separation, reported that accessing the service influenced their decision to agree to shared-care arrangements for their children, whereas 7% reported the service influenced their decision to oppose it. A higher proportion of parents who experienced physical violence decided to seek more time with their children as a result of accessing the service (15%), compared with parents who experienced emotional abuse alone or no family violence (13% and 6%, respectively). Further, one in five parents who experienced physical violence before/during separation decided to take steps to protect themselves and/or their children, after accessing the service.

Figure 7.2: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation

Figure 7.2: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473)
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.3 shows that a similar pattern emerged among parents who had experienced family violence since separation as with those who had experienced family violence before/during separation.

A higher proportion of parents who had experienced family violence (physical and emotional) since separation reported that accessing the service influenced their decision to seek restrictions on their children's contact with the other parent (such as supervised contact, supervised changeover arrangements or no parenting time), compared with parents who had not experienced family violence since separation.

Further, a higher proportion (24%) of parents who had experienced physical violence since separation decided to take steps to protect themselves and/or their children, compared with 11% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone and 5% of parents who had not reported experiences of family violence in this time period.

Figure 7.3: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by experiences of family violence since separation

Figure 7.3: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by experiences of family violence since separation. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473)
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.4 examines the influence of particular services on fathers' and mothers' decisions about parenting arrangements. The figure shows that, with the exception of mothers' reports about lawyers, more than half the parents who accessed these services indicated that accessing the service made a difference to their decisions about parenting arrangements.

In some instances, decisions made as a result of accessing services varied by gender. For example, a higher proportion of fathers than mothers who accessed these particular services, decided to seek more time with their child as a result. Conversely, a higher proportion of fathers also decided to agree to less time with their children.

A higher proportion of mothers than fathers reported that accessing these services influenced their decision to take steps to protect themselves and/or their children (15-18% of mothers across these services, excluding those who accessed a domestic or family violence service, compared with 5-14% of fathers). Further, a higher proportion of mothers than fathers reported that these services influenced their decision to oppose a shared-care arrangement (4-9%, compared with 2-5% of fathers).

Figure 7.4: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by specific services

Figure 7.4: Parenting decisions made as a result of accessing the service, by specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. FC = focus (other) parent.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

7.4 Parents' satisfaction with family law services

When asked about their overall satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the service that they had accessed, more than two-thirds of parents reported that they were satisfied (Figure 7.5).25 Overall satisfaction appeared to be marginally higher among mothers, and overall dissatisfaction was slightly higher among fathers.

Figure 7.5: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by gender

Figure 7.5: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.6 shows that when analysed by experiences of family violence in the two time periods (before/during and since separation), parents who had experienced family violence reported slightly lower proportions of "satisfaction" with the service that they had accessed, compared with parents who had not experienced family violence in that time period.26 Further, almost one in three parents who had experienced physical violence since separation reported that they were dissatisfied with the service that they accessed (31% compared with 24% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone and 18% of parents who had not experienced any family violence since separation).

Figure 7.6: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence before/during and since separation

Figure 7.6: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence before/during and since separation. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Parents' satisfaction with particular services is examined in Figure 7.7 and shows that a higher proportion of mothers than fathers reported that they were satisfied with these particular services. For example, 74% of mothers reported they were either somewhat or very satisfied with the service or assistance they received from the court, compared with 59% of fathers.

Figure 7.7: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.7: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by gender and specific services. Described in text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

The highest proportion of fathers who reported they were satisfied with the service or assistance that they had received had accessed a lawyer (76%), followed by 62% of fathers who accessed FDR, mediation or an FRC.

Mothers' satisfaction with these specific services followed a similar pattern to fathers, with the exception that the highest proportion of mothers who reported they were satisfied had accessed a domestic or family violence service (85%), whereas the sample of fathers who accessed this service was too small to include in this analysis.

As seen earlier in Figure 7.5, parents' relative ambivalence with the service or the assistance that they received from a service (in that they felt neither somewhat satisfied nor somewhat dissatisfied) was relatively small (3% of all parents); however, this was highest among fathers and mothers who accessed a court (7% and 6% respectively).

Figures 7.8 and 7.9 show parents' satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the service or the assistance that they received, by their experiences of family violence before/during and since separation. For the vast majority of these services, the highest proportion of parents reporting that they were "satisfied" had not experienced family violence within each period. For example, 84% of parents who had not experienced family violence before/during separation, and had accessed a lawyer, were satisfied with the service or assistance that they had received. Similarly, 81% of parents who had accessed a lawyer and had not experienced family violence since separation reported they were satisfied.

Figure 7.8: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation and by specific services

Figure 7.8: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation and by specific services. Described in text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.9: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence since separation and by specific services

Figure 7.9: Parents' overall satisfaction with the service, by experiences of family violence since separation and by specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,473). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

However, among parents who had experienced some form of family violence, reported satisfaction and dissatisfaction appeared to vary somewhat by the different services. For example, parents who accessed FDR, mediation or a lawyer and had experienced physical violence before/during separation, reported higher proportions of dissatisfaction with the service or assistance that they had received than parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone. This pattern was also evident among those who had experienced physical violence since separation.

Conversely, parents who accessed the courts or family relationship services and who had experienced emotional abuse alone before/during separation, reported higher proportions of dissatisfaction than those who had experienced physical violence.

As noted in Table 7.5, where parents had accessed services, but reported that their contact with the randomly selected service was too minimal to proceed with answering the service-specific questions, their satisfaction with the service was the last question they were asked about this service. This occurred in 348 instances. The next sections on parents' experiences are based on the remaining sample of 2,125 parents.

7.5 Parents' experiences when using family law services

Parents were asked a series of statements about their experiences with the service that they had accessed and the sorts of assistance they might have received. Figure 7.10 shows the proportion of all parents who accessed a service and reported that the service provided these specific types of assistance (e.g., responded "yes" when asked whether the service provided helpful advice).27

Figure 7.10: Parents' agreement with statements about experiences with service, by gender

Figure 7.10: Parents' agreement with statements about experiences with service, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (referred to services: 14%; enabled to make arrangements: 24%; enabled to get help: 16%; effective assistance: 8%; helpful advice: 7%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

The results show the vast majority of parents reported that the service they accessed provided helpful advice (85%) and effective assistance (74%), though a higher proportion of mothers than fathers indicated this had occurred. For example, almost nine in ten mothers reported that they had received helpful advice, compared with eight in ten fathers.

More than two in three mothers (68%) and just over half the fathers (55%) reported that the service had enabled them and their children to get the help they needed.

Around half of the parents who accessed a service reported that the assistance from that service had enabled them to make appropriate parenting arrangements with the other parent. A similar proportion reported that they were referred to relevant support services.

When examining these statements about the service received by parents' experiences of family violence (Figure 7.11), the results show a majority of parents reported that the service had provided helpful advice and effective assistance, though the proportions were slightly higher among parents who had not experienced family violence than among those who had.

Figure 7.11: Parents' agreement with statements about experiences with service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation

Figure 7.11: Parents' agreement with statements about experiences with service, by experiences of family violence before/during separation. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (referred to services: 14%; enabled to make arrangements: 24%; enabled to get help: 16%; effective assistance: 8%; helpful advice: 7%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Variation in parents' responses by their experiences of family violence was more apparent with regard to whether the service had enabled them to get the help they needed and/or make appropriate parenting arrangements. For example, while 59% of parents who had experienced no family violence before/during separation reported that the service had enabled them to make appropriate parenting arrangements, this was the case for only 51% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone and 41% of parents who had experienced physical violence.

A higher proportion of parents who had experienced physical violence before/during separation (55%) reported that the service had referred them on to relevant support services, compared with those who had experienced emotional abuse alone (49%) and those who had not experienced family violence (50%).

There was very little variation in parents' responses by their experiences of family violence before/during separation, compared with family violence since separation, thus results for the latter time period have not been included in this report.

Parents' experiences with services appeared to vary somewhat by the type of service they accessed, as shown in Figures 7.12 to 7.16. As with previous charts, the results are only presented for the main services accessed by parents: family dispute resolution/mediation, lawyers/legal services, the courts, FRCs, and domestic/family violence services (for mothers only, due to the small population of fathers who accessed this service type).

With regard to the service providing helpful advice, the proportions of fathers and mothers who agreed that this happened were relatively high and similar within almost all service types, though slightly higher among mothers than fathers (Figure 7.12). For example, 92% of mothers who accessed a lawyer or legal service reported they provided helpful advice, compared to 87% of fathers. Similarly, 87% of mothers and 84% of fathers reported the FRC they accessed provided them with helpful advice.

Figure 7.12: Service provided helpful advice, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.12: Service provided helpful advice, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (7%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

The greatest difference in fathers' and mothers' responses was seen among parents who accessed a court, where 71% of mothers reported that they had been provided with helpful advice, compared with only 56% of fathers.

Ninety-four per cent of mothers who had accessed a domestic or family violence service reported that they had been provided with helpful advice.

Compared with the statement about helpful advice, slightly lower proportions of both fathers and mothers reported that the service they accessed provided them with effective assistance, with the exception of parents who accessed a court, where 60% of fathers and 76% of mothers reported they were provided with effective assistance (Figure 7.13).

Figure 7.13: Service provided effective assistance, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.13: Service provided effective assistance, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (8%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

When asked whether the service enabled them and their children to get the help they needed, parents' responses appeared to vary by both gender and service type (Figure 7.14).

Figure 7.14: Service enabled parent (and their children) to get the help they needed, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.14: Service enabled parent (and their children) to get the help they needed, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (16%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Among mothers, the highest proportion by service type to report that the service enabled them to obtain the help that they needed were those who had accessed a domestic or family violence service (78%), followed by those who had accessed a family relationship service (72%).

Among fathers, the highest proportion by service type to report that the service had enabled them to obtain the help that they needed were those who had accessed a lawyer/legal service (62%), followed by a family relationship service (54%), while just less than half the fathers who had accessed FDR reported that they had been able to obtain help (49%).

Parents who accessed the courts reported noticeably lower agreement with this statement, with 55% of mothers and 44% of fathers reporting that the courts had enabled them and their children to obtain the help that they needed.

As shown in Figure 7.15, a higher proportion of fathers than mothers who accessed the court system, reported that it enabled both parents to make appropriate parenting arrangements (53%, compared with 41% of mothers).

Figure 7.15: Service enabled both parents to make appropriate parenting arrangements, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.15: Service enabled both parents to make appropriate parenting arrangements, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (24%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Among parents who accessed family dispute resolution or mediation, just less than three in five reported that the service referred them to relevant support services (57%), though this was higher than was reported by parents who accessed lawyers/legal services (41% of fathers and 45% of mothers) and those who accessed the court (35% of fathers and mothers) (Figure 7.16). Among mothers who accessed a domestic or family violence service, 77% were referred to relevant support services.

Figure 7.16: Referred parent to relevant support services, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.16: Referred parent to relevant support services, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (14%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

7.5.1 Disclosures of family violence and safety concerns

Parents were questioned about whether the service that they accessed had asked them about their experiences of family violence and if they had any safety concerns for themselves or their children in relation to contact with the other parent. Figure 7.17 shows that overall, around three in five parents reported being asked about both of these issues, though a higher proportion of mothers reported this than fathers. That is, 65% of mothers were asked whether they had experienced family violence, compared with 53% of fathers, and 67% of mothers were asked about safety concerns, compared with 55% of fathers.

Figure 7.17: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by gender

Figure 7.17: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (11%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.18 shows that a higher proportion of parents who had experienced family violence reported being asked about whether they had experienced family violence or had safety concerns, compared with parents who had not experienced family violence.

Figure 7.18: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by experience of family violence

Figure 7.18: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by experience of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (family violence: 11%; safety concerns: 11%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Responses to a question about whether specific services asked parents about family violence and/or safety concerns are shown in Figure 7.19. The majority of fathers and mothers who accessed family dispute resolution or FRCs reported that the service asked them about family violence. Among parents who accessed a lawyer or legal service, just over half of mothers (54%) and just over a third of fathers (36%) reported having been asked about family violence.

Figure 7.19: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.19: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (11%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

The pattern that emerged in parents' reports of being asked about safety concerns by services was fairly similar to reports about being asked about family violence (Figure 7.20). Higher proportions of parents who accessed FDR or FRCs reported being asked about safety concerns, compared with parents who accessed lawyers/legal services or courts. Further, a higher proportion of mothers who accessed lawyers/legal services or courts reported being asked about safety concerns (58% and 60%, respectively), compared with fathers (43% and 41%, respectively).

Figure 7.20: Service asked parent about safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by gender and specific services

Figure 7.20: Service asked parent about safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by gender and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (11%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Parents' reports about specific services asking them about family violence and safety concerns shown in Figure 7.21 demonstrate that among parents who accessed legal professionals (i.e., lawyers, legal services or courts), a higher proportion of parents who experienced physical violence at any time were asked about family violence and safety concerns, compared with those who experienced emotional abuse alone or no family violence.

Among parents who accessed FRCs, 77% of those who reported experiences of emotional abuse alone were asked about family violence and 81% were asked about safety concerns, both higher proportions than parents who experienced physical violence (69% and 66%, respectively).

Figure 7.21: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by experiences of family violence and specific services

Figure 7.21: Service asked parent about their experiences of family violence or safety concerns for themselves and/or their children, by experiences of family violence and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (11%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Parents were also asked whether they raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to the service (regardless of whether they were asked about these issues by the service). Results for all parents are presented in Figure 7.22 and show that a similar proportion of mothers disclosed family violence as safety concerns for themselves and/or their children (47% and 48%, respectively). This was also the case among fathers, where around a third of fathers disclosed family violence and/or safety concerns to the service (32% and 35%, respectively).

Figure 7.22: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by gender

Figure 7.22: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (family violence: 20%; safety concerns: 19%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.23 describes the proportion of parents who disclosed family violence or safety concerns to the service, by their reported experiences of family violence. It is important to note that for this and subsequent figures in this section, the measure of family violence used for analyses was different to the previous figures in this section. That is, "physical violence" refers to the parent having reported experiences of physical violence (including sexual violence, with or without emotional abuse) at any time (as opposed to separating out experiences before/during and since separation). Parents who had not experienced physical violence at any time, but experienced one or more forms of emotional abuse at any time, were coded under "emotional abuse alone" and those who had not reported any experiences of family violence were coded as "no violence at any time".

Figure 7.23: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by experiences of family violence

Figure 7.23: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (family violence: 20%; safety concerns: 19%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

The results show that almost two in three parents who had experienced physical violence disclosed family violence to the service (64%). This compares with just less than one in three parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone (31%).

The pattern of parents' disclosure of safety concerns by their experiences of family violence appeared similar to the disclosure of family violence, where 60% of parents who had experienced physical violence disclosed safety concerns for themselves and/or their children to the service. Further, 37% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone disclosed safety concerns to the service. Around one in ten parents who did not report in the survey any experiences of physical violence or emotional abuse from the other parent, responded that they disclosed family violence or safety concerns to the service.28

When examining parents' disclosure of family violence and safety concerns by experiences of family violence, more than half of all parents who experienced physical violence at any time reported disclosing family violence to the service they accessed (Figure 7.24). The highest reports of disclosure to professionals among parents who had experienced physical violence were among those who accessed domestic or family violence services (91% raised family violence and 87% raised safety concerns), followed by parents who accessed the courts (69% raised family violence and 63% raised safety concerns), FRCs (65% raised family violence and 63% raised safety concerns) and FDR (65% and 54%, respectively).

Figure 7.24: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by experiences of family violence at any time and specific services

Figure 7.24: Parent raised or disclosed family violence or safety concerns to service, by experiences of family violence at any time and specific services. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (family violence: 20%; safety concerns: 19%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Among parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone, the highest reports of disclosure were by parents who accessed FRCs (45% raised family violence and 46% raised safety concerns). Around one in four parents who accessed FDR, lawyers or courts and experienced emotional abuse alone, raised this with the service.

Parents who disclosed experiences of family violence and/or safety concerns to the service were asked whether they felt the service took their disclosure seriously. The data from these responses were complex and not necessarily intuitive, showing notable variation from similar questions asked of parents as part of the SRSP 2014 survey, and has therefore been omitted from this report. They will be presented in the forthcoming report on the SRSP 2014, the data from which will support a better understanding of these patterns.

Factors parents' perceived would have better enabled disclosure of family violence and safety concerns

Parents who had experienced family violence and/or had safety concerns for themselves or their children but had not disclosed this to the family law service that they accessed, were asked what the service could have done to better enable disclosure. The interviewers recorded parents' responses verbatim. Table 7.6 shows a breakdown of the parents who were asked this question. Forty-six per cent of the parents who had not disclosed were fathers and 54% were mothers. On average, parents who had not disclosed had accessed an average of four services since the separation.

Among mothers who had not disclosed issues of risk to the service, more than half had experienced physical violence from the other parent at some time (either before, during or since the separation). This proportion was slightly lower among fathers (47%). Twenty-four per cent of fathers and 30% of mothers who had not disclosed issues to the service they accessed, held safety concerns for themselves or their child in relation to contact with the other parent. Further, 1 in 5 fathers and 1 in 4 mothers who had not disclosed held both safety concerns and had experienced some form of family violence from the other parent.

Table 7.6: Characteristics of parents who had not disclosed safety concerns or family violence experiences to the service they accessed, by gender
Parents who had not disclosed issues Fathers Mothers All parents
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Average number of services accessed 4.0 3.3 3.7
  % % %
All parents who had not disclosed 45.6 54.4 100.0
And had experienced physical violence any time 47.1 53.1 50.3
And had safety concerns for self or child 23.5 29.6 26.8
And had safety concerns & experienced FV 20.6 24.7 22.8
Total (n) 68 81 149

Thematic analysis was undertaken of the verbatim responses to this question and several themes emerged.

Nothing more could have been done

A substantial proportion of respondents indicated that there was nothing more that the service could have done to enable disclosure.

Not the main focus of accessing the service

A smaller proportion indicated that they did not disclose DFV because it was not the main focus of their reason for accessing the service.

[I] didn't want to talk about it any more than I had to.

It wasn't my biggest concern because it wasn't directed at my kids, it was directed at me.

Would have disclosed had they been asked

Another substantial proportion of participating parents indicated that they may have disclosed their experience of DFV to the service if it had been asked about or discussed in a different manner. Within this group, there were participants who stated that the service would have enabled their disclosure if they had asked about it, indicating that this did not always occur:

They could have asked about it.

It wasn't raised at all.

Professionals' approach to eliciting disclosure

In addition, a larger number of parents indicated that if DFV had been asked about differently, it might have better enabled disclosure. Some respondents indicated that if the service had discussed or asked about DFV with more nuance it may have enabled disclosure. For some respondents, more extensive questioning was identified as something that could have potentially enabled disclosure:

Asking more questions, more thorough questions. [They] didn't say that it's not just physical, [but] also mental and economic violence that they are asking about.

For others, the focus of their response was the subtlety with which DFV was asked about:

Questioning about it differently, not so directly.

Some respondents also indicated that providing referrals or information about DFV services, or the use of screening tools (such as questionnaires) might have enabled disclosure.

Better identifying and addressing safety or confidentiality concerns

A relatively small proportion of respondents explicitly stated that they had confidentiality and/or safety concerns that inhibited them from disclosing DFV. Most respondents who had explicit safety and/or confidentiality concerns were accessing lawyers/legal services or court services. For instance, speaking of their experience of accessing a lawyer or legal service, one parent stated:

I felt like I was in danger from [the other parent] if I didn't sign the forms, and I didn't know how they could protect me. That's not their job, so I was forced to sign the forms.

Individual consultations/assessments

Further, there were a slightly larger number of parents who indicated that they would have preferred to have had individual assessments rather than meetings in conjunction with their former partner. Some parents indicated that this was a barrier to disclosure, but did not explicitly raise safety concerns as a result:

It wasn't one-on-one, so everyone is sitting round a table talking and I didn't feel comfortable.

Others, however, described situations that clearly put them at risk:

I think I would've preferred seeing someone female. We had a joint session where [the other parent] was present and became very angry, and the two mediators had to calm him down. I think at that point there should have been some follow up with me privately and there wasn't.

Most of the responses that indicated that one-on-one consultations might have enabled disclosure of family violence or safety concerns were in relation to accessing Family Relationships Advice Line (FRAL), FDR and mediation, and Post Separation Cooperative Parenting Program (PSCPP) services.

7.6 Actions taken by specific services

This section examines parents' reports of whether particular actions took place that were specific to certain types of services, such as legal and non-legal practitioners. As with the previous sections, not all parents who accessed each service were asked about the service, as it would place too much burden on participants. Rather, from all the services accessed by each parent, one service was randomly selected as the service in question. Further, as with the previous sections, parents were advised that if a question or statement didn't apply to them, they could select "not applicable". Analysis of the results excluded responses of "not applicable" "don't know" and those who refused to answer (i.e., results presented here show the number of "yes" responses as a proportion of all "yes" and "no" responses only). For these reasons, the population sizes for some less commonly used services or sub-groups within questions were too small to report; therefore results where the population was less than 50 have been omitted. The data are presented by parent gender, by experiences of family violence and, where possible, by specific services (e.g., for FDR-related questions, parents who accessed an FDR practitioner,29 family relationship counselling service or FRC were asked these questions).

Family relationship and dispute resolution support services

This first section examines responses from parents who were asked about family relationship and dispute resolution support services (hereafter "primary non-legal professionals").

The specific statements that were asked of parents who accessed these services were as follows:

  • The service provided mediation or dispute resolution in a safe environment.
  • They suggested shuttle mediation or dispute resolution.
  • An FLA s 60I certificate was granted to enable me to make an application to the court.

Figure 7.25 shows that almost all parents who attended dispute resolution or mediation reported that it was provided in a safe environment.

Figure 7.25: The service provided FDR/mediation in a safe environment, by gender

Figure 7.25: The service provided FDR/mediation in a safe environment, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (13%). FDR: n = 370; FRCs: n = 219; Family relationship counselling services: n = 127).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Shuttle mediation/FDR involves the parties remaining in separate rooms for the mediation/FDR session, with the mediator or FDR practitioner moving between the two parties in their separate rooms during the negotiations. Reports of services suggesting shuttle mediation/FDR to parents appeared to have varied by whether parents were answering specifically about an FDR practitioner or about a relationship support service more generally. That is, a slightly higher proportion of fathers than mothers who accessed an FDR practitioner reported that shuttle mediation was suggested to them (53% compared with 47%, respectively) (Figure 7.26). Conversely, higher proportions of mothers who accessed an FRC (68%) or family relationship counselling service (60%) reported that shuttle mediation was suggested (compared with 57% and 53% of fathers, respectively).

Figure 7.26: The service suggested shuttle mediation/dispute resolution, by gender

Figure 7.26: The service suggested shuttle mediation/dispute resolution, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (17%). FDR: n = 305; FRC: n = 186; Family relationship counselling services: n = 119.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.27 shows that among fathers, a higher proportion of those answering with reference to an FDR practitioner specifically, reported that an s 60I certificate was issued (48%, compared with 39% and 35% of fathers who accessed services at an FRC or family relationship counselling service, respectively). Just over half of the mothers who accessed an FRC reported that an s 60I certificate was issued (compared with 38% who accessed FDR specifically, and 32% who accessed FRCs).

Figure 7.27: An s 60I certificate was granted, enabling me to proceed to court, by gender

Figure 7.27: An s 60I certificate was granted, enabling me to proceed to court, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (18%). FDR: n = 329; FRC: n = 185; Family relationship counselling services: n = 113.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Examining parents' responses to actions taken by primary non-legal professionals by parents' experiences of family violence at any time, Figure 7.28 shows that parents' perceptions of whether FDR was provided in a safe environment did not differ greatly by their experiences of family violence (between 89-92% of all parents reporting this happened). Similarly, reports that shuttle mediation was suggested did not differ greatly by parents' experiences of family violence; with 49-59% of parents reporting this occurred. However, differences were seen in the issuing of s 60I certificates, both by gender and by family violence experiences. For example, 52% of fathers and 44% of mothers who had experienced physical violence, and 44% of fathers and 41% of mothers who had experienced emotional abuse, reported that an s 60I certificate was issued. This compares with 23% of parents who reported that they had not experienced family violence.30

Figure 7.28: Actions taken by primary non-legal professionals, by gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.28: Actions taken by primary non-legal professionals, by gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes parents who responded with "not applicable", "don't know" or refused to answer. Results are not shown where population is N < 50. FDR: n = 716; Shuttle mediation: n = 610; s 60i certificate: n = 627.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.29 examines parents' responses by only those who answered questions about FDR practitioners specifically (rather than FRCs or family relationship counselling services). The results show that compared with the overall results in Figure 7.28, slightly lower proportions of parents who experienced family violence had shuttle mediation suggested to them, and slightly fewer mothers who experienced family violence had an s 60I certificate issued, compared not only to the overall figure for mothers, but also compared with fathers. For example, 39% of mothers who accessed FDR and experienced physical violence (cf. to 53% of fathers) and 41% who experienced emotional abuse alone were issued with an s 60I certificate (cf. to 49% of fathers).

Figure 7.29: Actions taken by primary non-legal professionals (FDR practitioners only), by gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.29: Actions taken by primary non-legal professionals (FDR practitioners only), by gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (18%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50 (i.e., parents who had not experienced family violence at any time). FDR: n = 328; Shuttle mediation: n = 179; s 60i certificate: n = 149.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Family law professionals can sometimes help parents to develop a safety plan to keep parents and children safe from harm during and after separation. Safety plans are personalised plans that specify the ways in which a person may stay safe while remaining in their relationship with their spouse or de facto partner, while in the process of leaving this relationship and/or in the post-separation context. Among parents who accessed a lawyer or legal service, 13% of mothers and 5% of fathers said the professional had helped them to develop a safety plan, and two in three parents who accessed a domestic or family violence service reported that this occurred (Figure 7.30). When examined by parents' experiences of family violence, results show that 32% of mothers who had experienced physical violence, and 13% who had experienced emotional abuse alone, were assisted with a safety plan. This compares with 13% of fathers who had experienced physical violence and 6% who had experienced emotional abuse.

Figure 7.30: The service helped me with a safety plan, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.30: The service helped me with a safety plan, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (27%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. Lawyers/legal service: n = 713; DV service: n = 66; Physical violence: n = 270; Emotional abuse alone: n = 374; No violence: n = 136.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Figure 7.31 shows the proportion of parents who were assisted to develop a safety plan, separated out by their experience of family violence and what service they accessed. The results showed that among parents who had accessed a lawyer or legal service, one in ten fathers and one in five mothers who had experienced physical violence were assisted by the legal professional to develop a safety plan. These proportions were notably lower among fathers and mothers who had experienced emotional abuse alone. Among parents who had accessed a domestic or family violence service, the majority of parents who had experienced physical violence were assisted to develop a safety plan (69%).

Figure 7.31: The service helped me with a safety plan, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.31: The service helped me with a safety plan, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (27%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. Lawyers/legal service: n = 713; DV service: n = 66.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Lawyers/legal services

Statements that applied primarily to lawyers and legal services included:

  • The service sought interim or final parenting orders or arrangements that accommodated my and my child's safety.
  • The service advised me to get a protection order (such as a DVO or AVO).
  • I was exempted from pre-filing dispute resolution.31

The results in Figure 7.32 show that close to one in three parents who had accessed a lawyer or legal service, reported that the professional sought interim or final parenting orders that accommodated their or their children's safety. This proportion was highest among mothers who had experienced physical violence (38%), compared to fathers who had experienced physical violence (31%) and parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone or no family violence.

Figure 7.32: Lawyer/legal service sought orders that accommodated parent/child's safety, by gender

Figure 7.32: Lawyer/legal service sought orders that accommodated parent/child's safety, by gender. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (31%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

As shown in Figure 7.33, a higher proportion of mothers than fathers who had accessed a lawyer or legal service were advised to seek a protection order. Both mothers and fathers who had experienced physical violence reported being advised to seek a protection order by their lawyer/legal service, compared with parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone and those who had not experienced family violence at any time.

Figure 7.33: Lawyer/legal service advised parent to get a protection order, by gender and any experience of family violence

Figure 7.33: Lawyer/legal service advised parent to get a protection order, by gender and any experience of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (24%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Around one in ten parents who accessed a lawyer/legal service, and one in four parents who accessed an FRC, reported being exempted from having to attend pre-filing dispute resolution (Figure 7.34). This was slightly higher among mothers than fathers, particularly mothers who had experienced physical violence (29%, compared with 12% of fathers who had experienced physical violence). Around one in ten parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone reported being exempted from having to attend pre-filing dispute resolution.

Figure 7.34: Exempted from attending pre-filing dispute resolution, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.34: Exempted from attending pre-filing dispute resolution, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (34%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. Lawyers/legal service: n = 531; FRC: n = 125; Physical violence: n = 216; Emotional abuse alone: n = 316; No violence: n = 124.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Court

Parents who accessed the courts were asked whether a one or both of two specific actions took place, namely:

  • The court made interim or final parenting orders that accommodated my and my child's safety.
  • An Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) was requested or granted.32

Figure 7.35 shows that around one in three parents who had accessed the courts reported that the orders granted in their case protected the safety of themselves and/or their children. Further, among the parents who had experienced physical violence, only 41% reported that the court granted orders that protected their safety and/or their children's safety.

Figure 7.35: Court granted orders to protect parent/child safety, by gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.35: Court granted orders to protect parent/child safety, by gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (33%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. Fathers: n = 56; Mothers: n = 64; Total: n = 120; Physical violence: n = 56.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Among parents who had accessed legal professionals, around 5% who were asked about their lawyer/legal service reported that an ICL was requested in their case (slightly higher among fathers than mothers) (Figure 7.36). For parents asked about their experiences with the courts, 14% of fathers and 9% of mothers reported that an ICL was granted in their case. Further, around twice the number of fathers than mothers who had experienced physical violence reported that an ICL was either requested or granted in their case (18%, compared with 9%, respectively). Finally, among parents who had experienced physical violence, one in ten parents who were asked about their lawyer/legal service reported that an ICL was requested/granted, while around one in five who were asked about the courts reported that an ICL was granted.

Figure 7.36: An ICL was requested/granted, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence

Figure 7.36: An ICL was requested/granted, by service, gender and any experiences of family violence. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (26%). Results are not shown where population is N < 50. Lawyers/legal service: n = 741; Court: n = 127; Physical violence: n = 282; Emotional abuse alone: n = 421; No violence: n = 165.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

Family consultant/single expert witness

Parents who had contact with a family consultant or single expert witness as part of a court case, were presented with one additional statement:

Their report in my family law matter made recommendations that accommodated my safety and my children's safety

Although the population of parents asked this question is too small to report reliably (n = 16), the results showed that, overall, more mothers than fathers agreed with this statement, as did parents who had experienced physical violence, compared with those who had experienced emotional abuse alone. Among the parents who had contact with a family consultant or single expert witness, all had experienced some form of family violence at some time, and all parents either answered "yes" or "no" to this statement (i.e., all parents considered this question to apply to them).

7.7 Perceived effectiveness of family law services

Parents were presented with a further series of statements about the service that they had accessed, and were asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement, based on their experiences or perceptions about the service.33 Parents were informed before the statements were read out that if they did not feel the statement was relevant to them, they could respond with "not applicable". These "not applicable" responses were higher for the statements "the service understood the impact of family violence" (33%), "the service understood children's developmental needs" (23%) and "the service understood the best outcomes for children" (20%). For the rest of the statements, the proportion of "not applicable" responses was less than 10%. The results presented below are based on analyses that excluded the "not applicable" responses.

Figure 7.37 shows that the vast majority of parents agreed with each statement, based on their experiences. Most notably, nine in ten parents reported that the service that they had accessed treated them "fairly and with respect". Financial affordability of the service has the lowest proportion of agreement (73%), with just less than one in four parents disagreeing that the service was affordable.

There was almost no difference in fathers' and mothers' reports.

Figure 7.37: Parents' perceptions about aspects of the service, all parents

Figure 7.37: Parents' perceptions about aspects of the service, all parents. Described in accompanying text.

Notes: Population base: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (understood impact of family violence: 31%; children's developmental needs: 22%; best outcomes for children: 19%; treated fairly: 6%; financially affordable: 9%; convenient: 6%; high quality: 6%).
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)

When examined by parents' experiences of family violence, the results showed that agreement with the statements appeared to be lower among parents who had experienced family violence at any time, compared with parents who had not (Table 7.7). Conversely, higher proportions of parents disagreed with the statements where they had experienced physical violence at any time, compared with parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone and those who had not experienced any family violence.

Regarding the service understanding the effects of family violence, 78% of parents who had experienced physical violence and 83% of parents who had experienced emotional abuse agreed with this.

Table 7.7: Parents' perceptions about aspects of the service, by experiences of family violence
  Physical violence at any time (%) Emotional abuse alone (%) No violence at any time (%) All parents (%)
Notes: Population base: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (understood impact of family violence: 31%; children's developmental needs: 22%; best outcomes for children: 19%; treated fairly: 6%; financially affordable: 9%; convenient: 6%; high quality: 6%). Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Understood the impact of family violence
Agree 77.6 83.3 85.9 81.2
Neither 4.2 4.1 5.3 4.3
Disagree 18.2 12.5 8.8 14.5
Understood children's developmental needs
Agree 81.9 85.1 88.9 84.4
Neither 3.3 2.2 3.7 2.8
Disagree 14.8 12.7 7.4 12.8
Understood best outcomes for children
Agree 77.9 81.2 91.3 81.4
Neither 3.4 4.1 1.7 3.5
Disagree 18.7 14.7 7.1 15.1
Treated me fairly and with respect
Agree 87.0 90.0 96.2 90.0
Neither 1.8 0.9 0.9 1.2
Disagree 11.3 9.1 2.9 8.9
Was financially affordable
Agree 70.8 73.4 75.6 72.9
Neither 3.1 2.7 3.6 3.0
Disagree 26.2 23.8 20.8 24.1
Was convenient
Agree 79.3 83.4 89.2 83.0
Neither 2.1 2.4 1.1 2.1
Disagree 18.7 14.2 9.7 15.0
Overall quality of the service was high
Agree 76.7 79.1 86.2 79.5
Neither 4.3 3.4 4.6 3.9
Disagree 19.0 17.4 9.2 16.6
Total (N) 837 1,213 423 2,473

The degree to which parents agreed with each of the statements in relation to specific services is shown in Table 7.8. Agreement was lowest for each statement among parents who accessed the courts.

When presented with the statement "the service was financially affordable", lower proportions of parents who accessed legal professionals agreed with this (i.e., 53% of parents who accessed the courts and 58% who accessed a lawyer agreed, whereas 44% and 37%, respectively, disagreed).

Examining parents' perceptions regarding non-legal professionals, between 81% and 96% of parents agreed with the statements, with the only exception being that around one in five parents who accessed FDR or FRCs disagreed that "the overall quality of the service was high".

Table 7.8: Parents' perceptions about aspects of the service, by specific services
  FDR (%) Lawyer/legal service (%) Court (%) FRC (%) DV service (%)
Notes: Population base: All parents who accessed a service (n = 2,125). Analysis excludes "don't know" or "refused" responses. Analysis also excludes parents who felt this statement didn't apply to them (understood impact of family violence: 31%; children's developmental needs: 22%; best outcomes for children: 19%; treated fairly: 6%; financially affordable: 9%; convenient: 6%; high quality: 6%). Percentages may not total exactly 100.0% due to rounding.
Source: Experiences With Services module (SRSP 2014)
Understood the impact of family violence
Agree 82.6 80.8 64.7 87.3 92.9
Neither 1.7 6.5 6.9 1.7 0.0
Disagree 15.7 12.7 28.4 11.1 7.1
Understood children's developmental needs
Agree 87.9 82.0 65.4 90.9 86.4
Neither 0.3 3.7 8.7 1.0 6.1
Disagree 11.8 14.3 26.0 8.2 7.6
Understood best outcomes for children
Agree 80.9 82.0 65.5 85.9 83.6
Neither 3.4 3.4 6.2 2.8 6.6
Disagree 15.7 14.7 28.3 11.3 9.8
Treated me fairly and with respect
Agree 88.6 93.3 78.4 86.6 95.8
Neither 0.5 1.2 3.3 0.8 1.4
Disagree 10.9 5.5 18.3 12.6 2.8
Was financially affordable
Agree 87.8 58.4 52.8 92.5 91.9
Neither 1.9 4.2 2.8 1.3 3.2
Disagree 10.3 37.4 44.3 6.8 4.8
Was convenient
Agree 82.3 85.1 70.0 81.9 87.3
Neither 2.4 2.3 1.3 1.3 2.8
Disagree 15.4 12.5 28.7 16.8 9.9
Overall quality of the service was high
Agree 76.6 81.1 72.3 77.0 80.6
Neither 3.9 3.9 5.4 3.4 5.6
Disagree 19.4 15.0 22.3 19.6 13.9
Total (N) 432 1,009 196 264 81

7.8 Summary

This section has examined the experiences of 2,473 parents using family law system services in late 2012 and throughout 2013 to examine core issues of concern to this evaluation. The discussion focuses on patterns of disclosure of concerns about family violence and child safety, decisions made about parenting matters after accessing services and levels of satisfaction with various services. The services at the core of the analysis are FRCs, FDR, lawyers, courts and DV services.

Overall, three in four parents interviewed accessed at least one service in relation to their separation. Lawyers were the most commonly used service by both mothers and fathers in this sample, followed by FDR and FRCs.

Parents' access to particular services, as well as the number of services they accessed varied by their experiences of family violence, in that higher proportions of parents who had experienced physical violence accessed each service, and also several services, compared with parents who had not experienced family violence.

The majority of parents reported that they accessed the service via informal pathways - predominantly self-referrals (43%) or referrals to the service by family/friends (16%) or the other parent (10%). Formal referrals came most commonly from lawyers (12%), with around 2% of referrals to a service made by courts, police or other services (7%). Higher proportions of parents who had experienced family violence reported that they accessed the service by a referral from another service. For example, 15% of parents who had experienced physical violence before/during separation were referred to the service by a lawyer (compared with 9% who had not experienced family violence), 4% were referred by police (compared with 1% who had not experienced family violence) and 3% referred by the courts (among parents who had not experienced family violence before/during separation, none were referred by the courts). Similar results were seen when analysed by family violence since separation.

Around two-thirds of parents who accessed a service reported that the service influenced the decisions they made about parenting arrangements during negotiations. The most common decision parents made after accessing a service was to agree to a shared-care arrangement, with around one in five mothers and fathers reporting this. Some differences in decisions emerged when analysed by gender, such as 18% of fathers reporting that they sought more time with their children, compared with 7% of mothers, while 15% of mothers reported that they decided to take steps to protect themselves or their children, compared with 7% of fathers. A reported history of family violence was associated with different patterns in decision making as a result of accessing services compared with no reported history of family violence. For example, 15% of parents who had experience physical violence before/during separation decided to seek more time with their children after accessing a service, compared with 6% of parents who had not experienced family violence before/during separation. Further, 20% of parents who had experienced physical violence before/during separation decided to take steps to protect themselves and/or their children after accessing a service, compared with 9% who had experienced emotional abuse alone and 3% who had not experienced any family violence before/during separation. When examined by specific services, 31% of mothers and 25% of fathers who accessed FDR, reported that they decided to agree to a shared-care arrangement for their children. Where parents reported that access to a service made no difference to decisions they made about parenting arrangements, the highest proportion emerged among parents who accessed a lawyer or legal service (52% of mothers and 47% of fathers).

Overall, the majority of parents reported that they were satisfied (or very satisfied) with the assistance that they received from the service they accessed, though higher proportions of satisfaction were reported among parents who had not experienced family violence than those who had experienced physical violence or emotional abuse alone. When examined by specific services, a higher proportion of mothers than fathers reported satisfaction with each service, though the majority of fathers did report they were satisfied. A higher proportion of fathers than mothers reported dissatisfaction with non-legal professionals, with 33% of fathers who accessed FDR and 36% of fathers who accessed an FRC, reporting they were dissatisfied (compared with 28% and 19% of mothers, respectively). Satisfaction with specific services by parents' experiences of family violence revealed no clear patterns. For example, among parents who accessed FDR, a higher proportion of parents who had not experienced family violence reported higher proportions of satisfaction compared with parents who had experienced physical violence and emotional abuse alone. Conversely, among parents who accessed the courts, parents who had experienced physical violence, reported a higher proportion of satisfaction than parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone.

The vast majority of parents reported that the service they accessed provided helpful advice and effective assistance, though this was slightly higher among mothers than fathers, as well as higher among parents who had not experienced family violence, compared with parents who had. Parents were also asked whether the service they accessed enabled them to get the help that they needed, with 68% of mothers and 55% of fathers reporting that this occurred. Again, higher proportions of parents who had not experienced family violence reported this occurred, compared with those who had experienced family violence. With regard to specific services, 62% of fathers and 69% of mothers who accessed a lawyer reported that the lawyer enabled them to get the help they needed, notably higher than the 44% of fathers and 55% of mothers who accessed the courts. When asked whether the service they accessed enabled them to make appropriate parenting arrangements, the majority of parents reported that this occurred, with the exception of fathers who accessed a lawyer (48%) and mothers who accessed the courts (41%) or a domestic and family violence service (29%).

Parents were also asked whether the service referred them to relevant services. Around half reported such referrals, although this varied by specific services. Fifty-seven per cent of parents who accessed FDR reported receiving referrals, compared with 41% of fathers and 45% of mothers who accessed a lawyer, and 35% of parents who accessed courts, reporting this occurred. These patterns are consistent with the role of FRCs as an early contact point for many separating parents.

Around three in five parents reported that the service they accessed asked them about their experiences of family violence, with responses varying somewhat by gender (higher proportions of mothers reporting this than fathers) and by family violence (higher proportions of parents who had experienced physical violence reporting this occurred). When experiences with specific services were examined, the majority of parents reported that they were asked about family violence, with the exception of fathers who accessed a lawyer, where just over one in three reported that this occurred. Similar patterns were seen with regard to services asking parents whether they held safety concerns for themselves or their children. Among all parents who accessed a service, around one in three fathers and almost half of mothers reported that they disclosed family violence and/or safety concerns to the service they accessed. Disclosure of both of these issues was higher among parents who had experienced physical violence from the other parent at any time (64% disclosed family violence and 60% raised safety concerns). Raising family violence or safety concerns also varied by the type of family violence parents had experienced, where higher proportions of parents who had experienced physical violence raised either issue, compared with parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone.

In relation to specific actions taken by professionals in the delivery of FDR services, overall, mothers' and fathers' reports were very similar, with nine in ten parents agreeing that FDR was provided in a safe environment. Just over half the parents reported that shuttle mediation was suggested by the service, and around two in five parents reported an s 60I certificate was issued by the service. In relation to shuttle mediation/FDR more specifically, reports of services suggesting this option to parents appear to have varied by whether parents were answering specifically about a FDR practitioner or about a relationship support service more generally. Parents' perceptions of whether FDR was provided in a safe environment or whether shuttle mediation/FDR was offered, did not differ greatly by their experiences of family violence. However, differences were seen in the issuing of s 60I certificates, both by gender and by family violence experiences, with 52% of fathers and 44% of mothers who had experienced physical violence, and 44% of fathers and 41% of mothers who had experienced emotional abuse, reporting that an s 60I certificate was issued, as compared with 23% of parents who reported that they had not experienced family violence. Differences also emerged on a similar basis with respect to professionals' provision of assistance with safety plans, with 32% of mothers who had experienced physical violence, and 13% who had experienced emotional abuse alone, assisted with a safety plan. Only 13% of fathers who had experienced physical violence and 6% who had experienced emotional abuse reported receiving this assistance.

In relation to the specific action taken by lawyers/legal services, almost one in three parents who had accessed this service, reported that the lawyer sought interim or final parenting orders that accommodated their or their children's safety. This proportion was highest among mothers who had experienced physical violence (38%) compared to fathers who had experienced physical violence (31%) and parents who had experienced emotional abuse alone or no family violence. Both mothers and fathers who had experienced physical violence also reported being advised to seek a protection order by their lawyer/legal service. In relation to parents' reports of specific action taken by courts, around one in three parents who had accessed courts reported that the orders granted in their case protected their safety and/or the safety of their children. Among the parents who reported experiencing physical violence, only 41% indicated that the court granted orders that protected their safety and/or their children's safety.

When asked to rate their level of agreement with a number of statements about the services, the vast majority of parents agreed that the service understood family violence, children's developmental needs, and what provided the best outcome for children. Most parents also agreed that they were treated fairly and with respect by the service they accessed and that the overall quality of the service was high.

18 The total number of parents interviewed within this sample was 3,428; however, only 2,473 parents had accessed family law services that qualified for the subsequent questions.

19 Where parents had accessed more than one service, the questionnaire was programmed such that it randomly selected one of these services about which to ask the questions.

20 An insufficient number of fathers had accessed family violence services to support statistical analysis. Therefore, only mothers' experiences with family violence services are discussed.

21 It should be noted that for the purposes of this analysis, "contact" with a service could include phone correspondence, face-to-face contact, etc. It is also possible for some overlap in the enumeration of services to have occurred with regard to FDR; that is, where a parent accessed FDR at a Family Relationship Centre, they might have selected having had contact with both FDR and FRC.

22 It is possible therefore that the participants may have accessed family law courts or state- or territory-based courts that deal with personal protection orders.

23 As noted under Table 7.1, this sample excludes parents who only reported accessing a "psychologist/psychiatrist" or "other service" (n = 153).

24 "Shared care" is defined as a child spending 35-65% of nights with each parent.

25 The specific question was "Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with the service or assistance you received from the <service type>?

26 It is important to note that an individual parent may have experienced no family violence in one time period, but experienced family violence in the other time period. Further analysis is required to clarify which parents had experienced family violence at any time and those who had not experienced any family violence either before/during or since separation.

27 Parents were informed prior to the statements being read out, that if they felt the statement was not relevant to their circumstances, they could respond with "not applicable". "Don't know" and "refused" could also be selected. The analyses shown in this report excludes "not applicable", "don't know" and "refused" so that the results show only the distribution of "yes" responses as a proportion of responses where the statement was relevant to the parent's individual circumstances.

28 It is not clear how this arose, however there are at least two possibilities. First, they may have disclosed family violence experienced by someone other than themselves and second, they may have disclosed family violence perpetrated by someone other than the focus parent.

29 Where the specific "service" in question was itself "FDR or mediation", it is worth noting that 61% of these parents accessed it at an FRC, 34% accessed it "somewhere else" and 5% did not know where they attended FDR.

30 It is worth noting that these data examine only the responding parents' experiences of family violence, and it is possible that the cases in the "no violence" category might have involved other issues of risk or harm.

31 Although this was also asked of FDR and FRC customers, the populations of those answering yes or no were too small to report.

32 This question was also asked of parents who had accessed a lawyer/legal service.

33 The response options were "strongly agree", "agree", "disagree" and "strongly disagree". Additional responses of "neither agree not disagree", "not applicable", "don't know" and "refused" were also available, but not read out to participants.