COVID-19 and its impact on the family violence legal and service system

A Families in Focus webinar

Content type
Event date

25 June 2020, 01:00PM to 02:00PM


Angela Lynch AM




This webinar was held on Thursday 25 June 2020. 

Angela Lynch AM explored the challenges COVID-19 are creating for the family violence legal and service system. This unprecedented time is posing new challenges to the safety of women and their children living with domestic and family violence. 

Since COVID-19 restrictions were in place, there has been a 75% increase in Google searches for ‘domestic violence’, the Queensland Minister for Health has reported emergency departments seeing an increase in significant injuries related to domestic violence, the family court has seen an almost 40% increase in urgent applications, and recent weeks have seen a number of shocking and violent domestic violence deaths. 

Angela Lynch will discuss the challenges presented by COVID-19 in keeping women and their children experiencing domestic violence safe, and discuss solutions from a legal perspective, particularly focusing on the family law system. 

Audio transcript (edited)

MS HOLLONDS: My name is Anne Hollonds, and I'm the director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Welcome to our fourth webinar in the Families In Focus series. I'd like to start by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, who are the traditional owners of the land on which I am speaking at the moment. And I would like to pay my respect to their elders past and present. And also to those of all the lands where you're meeting on today as well, right across Australia and outside of Australia. This Families In Focus month has been a great opportunity for us to hear from some of the keynote speakers who will be presenting at our
re-scheduled AIFS conference, which is now to be held in June 2021, obviously because of the pandemic.

Today we're privileged to have with us Angela Lynch AM, Chief Executive Officer of the Women's Legal Service in Queensland. Angela is a lawyer and an advocate for survivors of domestic and family violence. Over 23 years in the Queensland domestic violence sector Angela has developed a deep understanding of the issues confronting women who have experienced domestic violence. Translating practical legal knowledge and experience into significant law reform, policy, community legal education and safer client outcomes.

As chief executive of the Women's Legal Service, Angela guides the specialist community legal centre to build safer futures for Queensland women and their children. Championing frontline operations, external advocacy, client services and fundraising. In 2019 Angela was awarded an AM in the Australia Day honours list for her service to victims of domestic and family violence. Angela pre-recorded this presentation last week, it's entitled 'COVID-19 and its impact on the family violence legal and service system.' Please note some of this material may be distressing for you and we will be providing some helpline numbers for you at the end of the webinar.

After the presentation, we'll move to a live Q & A session with Angela present. You can start thinking now about what questions you might like to ask and you can post your questions at any time in the questions field on the 'Go to webinar' platform. We get lots of questions, so please be as succinct as you can in your question. At the end of the presentation, the screen will go black momentarily before, then you will see Angela and I return. So don't panic when your screen goes black. So here please welcome Angela Lynch.

MS LYNCH: Good afternoon everyone and thank you to AIFS for asking me to present today on the issue of COVID-19, domestic violence and solutions from a legal perspective, with a focus on family law. My name is Angela Lynch I am from the Women's Legal Service and I'd like to begin today by acknowledging and paying respects to the Yuggera and Turrbal people, the traditional owners of the land in which I'm presenting today in Brisbane. And all traditional owners from each of your respective locations. And I'd also like to pay respects to the elders past and present and emerging leaders and to all First Nations people participating today in this webinar.

So as has been advised I am from the Women's Legal Service in Queensland. We are, for those that don't know us, we provide free legal advice, representation and assistance to approximately 16,000 women a year. We have a state-wide domestic violence legal helpline that takes calls throughout the state. We help in areas of domestic violence, family law, child protection, financial abuse and some sexual violence matters. We operate mainly out of Brisbane but also have a small office at Caboolture which is in the north side, just outside Brisbane and at the Gold Coast which is from the south side.

We are very active in community legal education, we try to go out to rural and regional areas in our community education and also do law reform at a state and national level. This is just really sort of talking a little bit further in relation to the kinds of advice and assistance we provide. You may want to look at that in your own time, I'm not going to go through that too much. Again, this is just providing a bit of a background and some perspective from where we sit. As I advised, we provide 30,000 services to women, 85 per cent of our matters involve domestic violence, if not more really. 26 per cent of our clients are at risk of homelessness, 32 per cent believe the safety of themselves or their children are at risk right when they call us. And obviously we have issues in relation to low income, 24 per cent of our clients do advise that they do have a disability. And 5 per cent of our clients identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Obviously, the issue of COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on the world and on everybody and including on workplaces. What was immediately known, however, is that from those who work in the domestic violence sector, there was going to be an enormous impact on our clients and their children who are living with domestic violence. The impact has really been so immense and that's because of those orders to basically stay at home. And for so many of our clients, home is not a safe place. But we knew from our own clients who were telling us as the restrictions were increasing, they may have been thinking of separating but they were going to go back into the relationship, basically, they were going to try to stay within the relationship and come out on the other side when the social restrictions started to ease. And we had clients telling us that and of course, knowing the dynamics of domestic violence, we knew that that would be happening.

So obviously the impact was so immense because of those orders to stay at home and the issues about daily contact with the perpetrator which may have increased, it increased his ability to monitor and supervise their activities. There’s issues in relation to unemployment obviously when those social restrictions came in, many businesses and many workplaces shut down immediately and people were placed into unemployment very, very sadly. This financial stress can exacerbate pre-existing issues of domestic violence and can obviously exacerbate those issues. And that's going to be an ongoing issue, you know, even after the social restrictions ease.

There's also, obviously, there's been restrictions on the ability to go out into public spaces and even just to have that kind of contact with other people that provide support or may provide support to a victim of violence. That you know, not necessarily, not only a domestic violence counsellor or a domestic violence service but also that kind of interaction that occurs, that lifts your spirits. Interaction with other mums at school and all those kind of things, mums groups and things like that, that help people get by and sustain their sense of wellbeing. Obviously all of those things were cut off after the social restrictions were imposed.

What happened is that the United Nations recognised the issue and impact on victims of domestic violence and their children and coined the term, 'Shadow pandemic.' And you can see the enormous extent of the issue of violence against women across the globe with the UN women talking about 
243 million women and girls having experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. So this is an enormous issue internationally and obviously also domestically. And the UN Secretary-General on the 6th of April urged all governments to put women's safety first when they respond to the pandemic, recognising the specific impacts on women who are victims of domestic violence.

What occurred was that domestic violence services really got on the front foot in many ways, to try to establish and try to draw out what was happening in the homes. There were some worker surveys, this was conducted by the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network. This is an unpublished survey; it was based on the survey that was conducted by Women's Safety New South Wales. Again what it was showing, and it consistently has shown down the eastern seaboard by surveys of workers, is an increase in complexity of matters that were coming through and basically an increase in violence. So you can see by some of those statistics, workers were identifying they had 36 per cent identified an escalation or a worsening of violence. And this is workers right across the state, Queensland Domestic Services Network. Domestic violence services – so they're regional services as well as metro services.

You can see that there is – they talk about 42 per cent that there is an increase in client numbers. Some actually said no increase, and again maybe reflecting the fact that women were finding it difficult to voluntarily engage with services at this time because of increased monitoring. The type of violence they were seeing, 81.3 talked about an escalation of control and manipulation, 49 per cent using COVID as a reason for the abuse. 36 per cent talked about an increase in 
non-physical abuse. So – and you can see 19 per cent there, talked about visiting emergency departments of hospitals because of injuries sustained by their clients. So their clients were visiting emergency hospitals.

Yes, so there's also issues and themes in relation to drug and alcohol use and increased drug and alcohol use, and increased concern and levels of violence as a result of that. So – and at the same time as these worker surveys were being conducted, the government itself as reasoning behind quite a large increase in funding to the domestic violence sector, and they came out quite early, the federal government to make that announcement and they referred to a 75 per cent increase in Google searches for domestic violence. So what's being shown by this kind of anecdotal evidence is, women were seeking different ways of reaching out for assistance because they were locked in the homes and were finding the usual ways and the usual opportunities to be able to reach out to services were not so available.

Again, there was a number of increases to helplines, there was also anecdotal evidence. There is a referral there to 
Act For Kids saying that they've had an increase in children exposed to DV across Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Mackay offices. And again, just that reference to the Women's Safety New South Wales survey which talked about domestic violence services also seeing an increase in complexity and issues of violence in their caseloads. Just recently the Monash University also released a Victorian worker survey again and consistently, talking about complexity and severity of violence and also noting the issue that practitioners were struggling working from home and this was wreaking havoc on actual workers boundaries and mental health issues.

So it's that ongoing issue of – and it has been a theme and a concern that has been voiced by the sector in relation to worker health being isolated themselves, dealing with very complex and dealing issues of violence and abuse themselves in their own home and without necessarily that kind of physical support of a workplace around them. So, these are the issues that have gone on in the last three to four months and obviously we're waiting to see what the fallout of those issues will be.

Some possible reasons, when we talk about, what do we mean by complex caseload? Some things that we can talk about, you can see and we've mentioned before the increased access and use of drug and alcohol. Complex mental health issues, so women and other people coming forward with complex mental health issues and seeking help. Women with no incomes, isolation and lack of support. Obviously health issues and concerns of increased vulnerability to COVID-19. So the pandemic provided abusers with other means of control. Abusers, domestic violence abusers will use everything in their power to exercise power and control.

So in many ways, this is not different behaviour, but it just provided – the pandemic provided such an opportunity and many ways to exercise control, saying that you can't – well you couldn't leave the house. But sort of saying that you can't leave the house, control and monitoring of her technology and communication devices, limiting contact with the families, friends and support and workplace. Saying the police won't come, saying the courts are shut and that he doesn't have to comply with court orders. Basically you're on your own was the message that was being given to women in domestic violence situations.

In relation to family law and parenting issues, what we saw was an immediate change in relation to the nature of calls that were coming through our helpline. It was wreaking havoc on many parenting agreements. The majority of which involved domestic violence, 50 to 90 per cent of our calls to our statewide domestic violence helpline changed immediately to issues in relation to COVID-19 and parenting. Many were first time clients; they had not sought assistance from us before and for a range of complex reasons of which I may touch on some of those reasons later.

Many DV victims are sharing the parenting of children with perpetrators. But basically the COVID-19 just, in many ways kicked the hornets’ nest and DV victims are used to, and will tolerate, high levels of bullying and intimidation and control, controlling behaviour via the shared parenting agreements. But when they sensed their children were in danger because of COVID-19, that's when they sought legal advice. So many of these agreements were not court-ordered, they were agreements that had been entered into between the parties themselves.

At the same time, the Family Law Courts were also then seeing or experiencing an increase in urgent applications. The Family Law Court said, 'Forty per cent increase in urgent applications relating to parenting were coming through, in relation to this period during the pandemic. Urgent applications increased by 23 per cent in the Federal Circuit Court.' These are all significant increases in applications to the court. So the court also knew that something was happening as well.

So we actually, ourselves, wrote to the Family Court. I wrote to the chief justice; I've never written to a chief justice before but I did write in this instance and said, these were the issues that were coming through, we expected these were the issues that were being experienced throughout the country. And we suggested to the court respectfully, that they consider establishing a specific response to this issue, of which they did and they acted very quickly to respond to these issues and they established this COVID list. Which basically is a – it's an urgent hearing where matters are heard within 72 hours.

There's less paperwork, so relative to the Family Courts' usual processes, this is less paperwork, it's a national approach and it's all electronic. So for people who are going through this list, they may be in any kind of area in Australia and then they may be having judges – you could be in Brisbane but have a judge from Sydney or Melbourne. So they were using their resources at a national level. There has to be, to be able to apply under this list it still exists, so it's important for people to know this list does exist. There has to be a direct COVID link to what's happening. It has to be urgent and a direct COVID link. So issues around supervised contact issues falling down because of COVID. So contact centres, grandma can't do it any more et cetera, et cetera.

Cross borders issues about issues of children crossing borders and health concerns in relation to children as well. And another reason is that there has actually been an increased risk of domestic violence or abuse because of COVID. So, if you can link in the application that the violence has been exacerbated by COVID because of the shutdown, because of the isolation, because of all of those issues, because the perpetrator may be drinking more or things of that nature. then this list is an option in relation to getting an urgent hearing around, you know, obviously parenting issues.

I was very pleased to see that the reasoning from the court came from – they established this list and they were very clear it was from a perspective of domestic violence safety and risk mitigation. And I congratulate the court for doing that because, these are the clients that need that assistance in relation to, you know, arranging some safe parenting arrangements.

This is a AWAVA, Australian Women Against Violence Association which is the peak body for violence, women's 
anti-violence associations in Australia. And fairer gender released a press release, an important press release on the 7th of May, warning that as the social distancing laws you know, eased, that the issue of domestic violence and risk and things of that nature are not going to ease. And that this is actually quite a dangerous time for women and children who may make the decision now to escape domestic violence. And so that the risk when a perpetrator has had the ultimate levels of control and then the loss of that control, has been and can be exacerbated by what has happened in COVID-19. It could be a very dangerous time and you can see that they've set that out very explicitly and clearly, the reasons why it can continue to be a dangerous time over the next few months and up to the next 12 months.

In many ways, the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues. It has shone a light on existing systemic weaknesses. For example, when so many cases were – when there was such a surge in cases of shared parenting agreements falling down. Why were there so many? Or why are there so many cases of shared parenting, despite the existence of domestic violence and abuse? Women were seeking our advice 
after – and they still always do, often after they've already entered into these equal time and shared time arrangements for their kids.

The reason that they do that is because they think that is what the law says. Or, he says it is the law and they believe it. They themselves internally believe it is fair, or they try to have or they use it as a mechanism to try to appease him and lower the risk of violence. But what they discover after a period of time is that it generally does not work. There are a lot of difficulties, a lot of opportunities for violence and abuse and control to continue in these arrangements but it can be extremely difficult to change these arrangements at a later time.

And their choices in relation to changing are either going to family dispute resolution, which really relies on him, his goodwill in changing the agreement, or going to court. And often they will not get Legal Aid support to change such arrangements that have been in place for a period of time and were even unsure that the court would make those changes anyway. So they become stuck with these fairly unworkable arrangements that expose children to violence and expose the mother to violence.

We can look to AIFS research in relation to issues of shared parenting and shared parental responsibility. Also to look at what occurs in the court system as well in relation to these arrangements and why these arrangements are so prevalent where there is domestic violence. And also for proof that's not just us that's experiencing this, that is actually also coming out in the research. So what that slide shows is, its orders for shared parental responsibility and this research looked at pre-reform, which is the 2012 changes to the Family Law Act that prioritise safety, or was supposed to prioritise safety, and compared them to some post-reform court orders. And these are court orders - it's important to know that these orders contained in this sample are orders made by a judge, orders made by consent on a litigation pathway and orders made purely by consent when litigation hasn't been started.

And what you can see is that when there's both family violence and child abuse, 69.9 per cent of matters are still making orders for shared parental responsibility, whether either family violence or child abuse in the post-reform period. 83.7 matters of court orders are still making shared parental responsibility and when there's neither family violence, nor child abuse, 89.9. So there's not much difference between when there's family violence, nor child abuse and when there is family violence or child abuse. Which I would say is a concern.

The next slide talks about actual time, it's an analysis of shared time and you can see from that slide that shared time orders apply in 10.6 per cent of children in the sample where both family violence and child abuse allegations were raised. They applied to 14.9 per cent where either of these kinds of allegations were raised, which I would argue is really quite high, and it applied to 21.7 per cent of matters where none of the allegations were raised. So again, interesting in relation to the kinds of court orders that are being made around shared parenting.

This slide sets out the pattern in shared time and shared parental responsibility orders by determination type. So by judge determination, or consent after proceedings and also consent without litigation. So in the judicial determination sample, shared care time is only marginally less where there are allegations of child abuse and family violence. So 
7.8 per cent of children where there are allegations of child abuse and family violence and 11.4 per cent of matters end up with shared care time where no such allegations. When either of the allegations were raised, shared time applied to 
10.6 per cent of children.

For consent after proceedings, so consent after litigation was commenced, shared time outcomes are almost as likely for children in cases involving both allegations of family violence and child abuse, which is 12.4 per cent, as they are for children with no such allegations at 13 per cent. And of most concern are even more likely where either one of these issues, either domestic violence or child abuse were raised at 15.4 per cent. So you can see that, yes, shared care time where cases of family violence or child abuse were raised and consent after proceedings occurred in 15.4 per cent of matters.

The extent of domestic violence in the court, we don't exactly know, but what we do know it's the overwhelming majority of matters. And we know that because of AIFS research, that's found 85 per cent of matters, or parents in their survey, reported a history of emotional abuse, 
54 per cent reported physical hurt and 46 per cent reported, safety concerns. Family violence or child abuse is present in 70 per cent of matters that are judicially determined. 
60 per cent of matters that are consent proceedings, were initiated but a trial doesn't occur and 38 per cent of the cases had four or more risk factors.

If you want to see the connection of highly dangerous levels of domestic violence and family law, or the family law system, you can look – and I recommend that you refer to the Queensland Domestic Violence Death Review Board annual report. In the annual report of 2017/2018, it talks about – and has a list of prevalence of (indistinct) risk factors taken from intimate partner homicides in Queensland between 2011 and 2017. And what it talks about is child custody and access disputes being noted as 19.2 per cent of those matters. There was a highlighted issue of child custody and access dispute. That is wider than being a family court issue matter, it's wider than that. So it is a dispute that may involve solicitors, the parties themselves and this would come up through the records of the domestic violence death review board.

Interestingly for CALD clients, that's Culturally and Linguistically Diverse clients, that's specific. They have a risk factor of 35.7 per cent. So what that means is in intimate partner homicides involving a CALD person, in 35.7 per cent of matters, there were custody and access disputes. Again, in the 2018 and 19 annual report – and I haven't gone through this in detail, it compares filicide matters with intimate partner violence, homicide risk factors and there were notable differences between the filicide and the intimate partner homicide and there was the existence of custody and access disputes in the filicide matters.

Of also particular note is in that in several cases in the latest annual report by the Board, the issue of financial dependence and financial abuse was identified as a barrier for leaving, especially in regional areas with money being tied up in assets. Partners having overwhelming control of assets. I've just thrown that in, also as a matter of interest. So why do we have so many, I suppose of our clients that are in situations of domestic violence and end up with these shared parenting arrangements and basically they're parenting with an abuser?

The reality is – and it is a systemic issue and the systemic issue is wider than the Family Law courts. The family law system involves mediation services, counselling services, child support agency, Legal Aid officers, all of that makes up a system, and it's wider than the court. But basically – and this is from our perspective, physical violence from our perspective is given precedence over the impact of non-physical forms of violence. Despite actually those non-physical forms of violence, coercive controlling behaviours being some of the most dangerous levels or dangerous indicators of domestic violence risk.

So the cause of violence is often seen as relationship conflict and you will often hear that word all the time in the family law system about conflict rather than violence. And what that does is that it pushes the notion that the violence is caused by the stress of the marriage or the relationship. And it also follows that once the relationship ends, the violence will stop. So there's that belief that once everything - the marriage has ended, the relationship has ended, everything will now be okay from now on.

Another cultural systemic issue is that violence against women and violence against children are mutually exclusive. And that you can be a domestic violence perpetrator but still a good dad. And that just ignores a whole range of statistics and impacts on children around domestic violence. I think as an overall failure of the system to really recognise and respond to perpetrator presentation and tactics and how they do use children as a means of control and how they use litigation and systems abuse. So there's just generally that kind of lack of recognition of those issues. And an overall emphasis on cooperative parenting rather than the prioritisation of safety.

And I just brought this out, this is a Guardian article, I actually would really refer people to it if they want to get a sense of how a victim of violence feels when she engages with the Family Court system. And what she talks about, she – in that article, she escaped after being strangled by him, and basically he held her life in his hands. And we know that women who are strangled or people that strangle, or the issue of strangulation is a, you know, one of the highest risk factors in relation to domestic violence lethality.

She ran for her life to a neighbour's house, it was in a rural location, but then she was required to live in close proximity to him as she described the person who'd nearly killed her, as it wasn't possible at the interim hearing for the judge to consider all of the evidence of the violence. So what she spoke about is that dealing with the court was almost worse than staying. And you can see her quotes there that I've lifted. 'It seems being accused of being unsupportive of the children's relationship with their father is given greater weight by a court than whether the father has exposed the children to violence.'

So that overwhelming, constant emphasis of cooperative parenting and it puts the victims in an absolute bind and in an internal dilemma in relation to promoting contact whilst actually trying to keep themselves and their children safe. And I just pulled this quote out as well from the article when she talks about – because it's often unspoken about. 'Children aren't stupid, they are both fluent in the language of love and trust. And despite your best efforts they are inevitably unsettled when your maternal mouth says one thing but the fear in your eyes says another.' So that's that internal struggle that goes on. And so begins the subtle and largely unacknowledged, undermining of the relationship between the victim, parent and child, brought to you by the system that was set up to protect both of them.

I'm not going to go into this too much, but it is the 
issue – and I've referred to some AIFS research about this. You know, there is the issue of poor lawyering because it's such a difficult position to take in relation to both seeking safety but having to constantly act like a cooperative parent, it requires some very astute lawyering to be able to safely advocate for your client in the court. Unfortunately, there is poor lawyering, unfortunately how women come across quite badly in the court, is when they have no lawyer and it's very, very difficult for that because that internal struggle just plays out in the court. And they look histrionic, hysterical you know, a whole range of negative stereotypes in relation to both trying to keep the kids safe but look like they're a cooperative parent.

This is basically what we at Women's Legal Service Queensland have developed. We developed it last year, it's a little bit out of date now but basically it's about establishing that if we're going to make changes we have to have a DV informed system. We have to have a DV informed court. If you have a domestic violence informed court at every level of and at every stage, what you will end up with are safer parenting orders for children and for adult survivors. You will end up with more equitable financial settlements.

You will actually end up if you actually take the dynamics of domestic violence into account and know that it will not end with a separation. And that will be sustained throughout that child's life, you are going to get more sustainable long-term orders. And you will get ultimately, decreased litigation through more specialist, if you have more specialist diversionary programs that resolve disputes that can be done at an earlier stage and are triaged away from the court system if it is possible and if you have improved case management in the court that limits systems and financial abuse.

Again, I'm not going to go into, we sort of provide – that was in 2019, we provide a whole range of different ideas. Some of these are also ideas that at a national level, the Women's Legal Services Australia promote through their 
five-step plan. I mean what I specifically wanted to talk about, is that we do advocate for a domestic violence death review approach in the family law system so that we can understand domestic violence deaths that occur in this system at a systemic level, and actually make recommendations for change in relation to that. And the Queensland Domestic Violence Death Review Board in its last annual report actually made that recommendation as well. We are also advocating, with a number of groups, including Women's Legal Services Australia for the absolute removal of this presumption of equal share parental responsibility that is the changes for women and children living with domestic violence in Australia.

I just wanted to also acknowledge that the family law courts have made some positive moves recently and that has been supported by the government. Obviously they established the COVID list, they did that and it was really from a place of reducing violence and risk. Also they are establishing the EVIT list which is the high-risk domestic violence pathway. A pilot to take place in Parramatta, Adelaide and Brisbane. That will be established later in the year that was a recommendation of Women's Legal Services Australia over a number of years. Ultimately it was also taken up by the Australian Law Reform Commission as a recommendation.

So we applaud the government for their investment in establishing that and obviously for the Family Court in taking that forward. The court also is starting a process of introducing some risk screening and triage as well. So these are all things that we have asked for. We acknowledge the complexity in a court environment of doing that but we do actually have to acknowledge some positive steps have been taken. So thank you for your time today and I'm happy now to talk further with Anne and obviously to take some questions as well.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks Angela.

MS LYNCH:Oh thank you Anne.

MS HOLLONDS: Thank you for your time.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks so much Angela for your presentation, there's an enormous amount of information you've provided in your presentation. I really wish we had the rest of the day to try to digest the various elements here but of course we've got another few minutes. Okay, sorry about that. I know that our participants have got – are starting to post some questions up. So while we get more questions up there on the screen, I'd like to ask you if you could briefly mention – you've given us a lot of recommendations of areas that need to be pursued and investigated further and acted on but what do you think we should be doing right now? Obviously some of those are longer-term projects. But what are the next steps now? What would you like to see happening right now?

MS LYNCH: I think that one of the main priorities is the removal of the presumption of equal share parental responsibility. That is something that can be done quite quickly. It’s legislative change, it is – it has such an impact on victims of domestic violence and children. It exposes so many of our clients and their children to danger, that it is something that should just be acted upon. And it really is above politics. This is about the safety of women, victims of violence and children in Australia. Currently, there's a bill before Parliament by our local member actually, Mr Graham Perrett, has put a bill before Parliament and we would ask all sides of Parliament to act in the interests of children's safety and to support that bill.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks, Angela. I'm going to start going to some questions now and – so this is a very broad question. But it may be something others are also thinking about. And I'll quote it directly:

'Why are women fundamentally so vulnerable to being abused in spite of being educated and successful in the present day scenario?'

MS LYNCH: I think that women are still socialised to invest a lot in their relationships. And they continue to still, despite obviously being – we have very many accomplished women in our society. Women as a whole still lack power in relation to financial power – an economic power status. And still in relation to education. And just taking the example of law students. I mean I think more than 50 per cent of law students continue – or are women but in the upper echelons of the law, we can't break through in substantive numbers in relation to the upper echelons of the law and partnerships and you know, judicial appointments and things of that nature. So I think it's just that – and we still have very accomplished woman, woman who are professionals and Domestic Violence Services will talk about this, who are abused. And I think that the extra vulnerability also in relation to having children. Anyone who's had children knows the extremely vulnerable position that you're actually in, once you actually have children. You're pregnant or have a young baby at home, you become, you know, really, really quite dependant on a support system. So – I'm sorry, I mean I'm sort of rambling now but yes, there's a range of issues why this still occurs.

MS HOLLONDS: And I think you said earlier Angela in your presentation about women tending to prioritise the children as opposed to their own safety once they have the children? And that can become an issue as well in terms of getting caught up in something – I mean, I think, I think for a lot of women it's hard to believe it's happening to me actually? It's like - - -

MS LYNCH: Absolutely and it's not like it's – you know, women are groomed into these relationships. They don't - you know, some do start off they're just horrible relationships from the beginning but a lot of these relationships are somebody that you do fall in love with. They have been charming and you know, they start off as wonderful relationships.


MS HOLLONDS: And then you're drawn in and drawn in and you're actually actively, once you actually become more and more dependent and they look for that dependence and levels of control, that's when they start to really beef up the issues in relation to abusive tactics.

And if I could just add to that, that I think, it goes to what you said earlier about the prioritising physical violence as opposed to other forms such as coercive control

MS LYNCH: I think that's a real issue for younger women who, early in their relationships maybe are not able to identify what's happening to them until, you know, it's that sort of -


MS HOLLONDS: It progresses and then they're not realising what they're really involved with because as a social norm we're talking about physical violence all the time.

MS LYNCH: Yeah that's right. I mean it's – you are second-guessing, it's that gaslighting that does take place. It's not obvious necessarily to you and you start to second guess. And then you become a little bit, you're not quite sure. You don't know if you can talk to anyone about it. And you also – yes, you sort of second guess yourself in relation to what is actually occurring. And then by that time you know, you may well be pregnant or you may well have joint assets and things of that nature. Which then becomes more difficult to start to kind of, like if you are going to separate it becomes much more difficult to do that. And you've got much more of a commitment to each other, financially and obviously emotionally it becomes difficult to extricate yourself.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks Angela, I'm going to move to some other questions now. This goes to what are some of the things we can do. So for example:

'Do you agree that early childhood interventions, to help children subjected to abuse is the solution to end domestic violence that they will replicate when they become adults?'

Another question about kids is:

'What do you see as the role of schools and teachers to support children and families?'

And then:

'How can we hear the voices of children and young people impacted by domestic violence?'

That's a little group there about kids and what we can be doing to help.

MS LYNCH: I mean, I think that we all have, you know, we all have a role to play in our responses and that schools and education systems and kindergartens, all of those places are integral to our response. And how we can respond and I'm not, you know, it is a complex issue and those schools are dealing with - can be dealing with both parents. So it is – these are complex and difficult issues. But definitely, obviously, the younger that we can intervene, the better it is going to be because the higher levels of exposure, obviously the impact on very young children of high levels of exposure to domestic violence has such an enormous impact on the growing brain. And we know, from research it's absolutely devastating on their life and health, mental health, physical health, a range of things in relation to child outcomes.

Some of the issues about - I mean one of the insidious issues about this equal share parental responsibility is that, if an order has been made for equal share parental responsibility, which we can see was really quite common when there's domestic violence or child abuse, it gives the perpetrator power to say no in relation to children getting counselling. So often children do not get counselling, who have been exposed to domestic violence, basically because the perpetrator has power to say no. And also it is also the fact that children will often not be able to get counselling because they have such constant contact with the perpetrator that it could put them in danger if they actually do have counselling.

MS HOLLONDS: Yep. I'm going to go now to kind of the opposite of the first question that I read out to you. And that is:

Given men are educated and smart these days, why do they still perpetrate violence? We don't need to be focusing on why women are vulnerable, we should be focusing on why do men continue to use violence against women?'

And I think this is a separate question,

'How or what can we do to ensure perpetrators are accountable for what they have done?'

MS LYNCH: Yes, I mean you know, I mean I'm not an expert in perpetrator tactics or perpetrator presentations and that could be another whole webinar in itself with experts in that area. But certainly, they obviously get something out of it. It is to their benefit that they – they obviously can have a relationship with their partner or what looks like a relationship, or what people would call a relationship. They can get the benefits of a relationship and they can get their needs met. They use their power and control in that relationship and abusive tactics because it actually meets their needs. So yes, that's why they do it. Sorry, Anne, I forgot the second part of that, what - - -

MS HOLLONDS: It was about, how can we ensure that they are accountable for their action?

MS LYNCH: Well, you know, we need a legal system that actually makes them accountable. I mean there's – obviously there's a whole range of, what does accountability mean. Accountability can mean down to – at a community level it can mean you know friends and family pulling abusive tactics or controlling tactics up. At a barbecue, it can be down to that kind of level that you need people to start to engage to pull people up around this behaviour. But it's right up to a court level as well that we need the courts to also be accountable. And I suppose what we've spoken about today, is the Family Law Court, it's – and they often don't see the issue that they're really dealing with domestic violence in the Family Law Court. Even though the overwhelming majority of matters are around domestic violence. And so issues of accountability or perpetrator accountability don't really feature in discussions about that court. But why would a perpetrator change if he will be rewarded in that court. So if a perpetrator pursues, you know, the children and seeking the, you know the custody of children and he's rewarded with that ultimately, why is he ever going to change? So we need sort of, at every level including at the court system level.

MS HOLLONDS: Sort of related to that issue, there's a question here about education needed for the court systems around the impacts of violence and parenting, alongside legislative changes. So do you think there needs to be more education?

MS LYNCH: I mean, obviously I think that training and education is essential, but it's training and education by experts in domestic violence. I do think that there has been over the years, lots of training and education around possibly these issues. But I do question perhaps, maybe sometimes who they get in to do that? And I would be sort of really advocating for real people who are experts in domestic violence, bringing experts in domestic violence into or providing that training. Rather than perhaps other people that maybe the system is more comfortable with.

MS HOLLONDS: M'hmm especially given its core business for the court.

It's core business of the court but they unfortunately – there is a bit of a lack of recognition. And also a bit of a lack of recognition that you actually would have expertise around domestic violence. And that an expert in domestic violence may be able to bring assistance, you know, bring some real sort of value to the system.

MS HOLLONDS: Okay questions here Angela about culturally and linguistically diverse women.

'How can we ensure CALD women understand better these new initiatives, such as the COVID list? And is there any provision of CALD specific approaches during all these legal procedures.'

And a statement that

'The CALD community has a big reservation when it comes to legal proceedings.'

MS LYNCH: Yes, I mean it’s such an enormous issue for the complexity for women from the culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to take a stand against their perpetrator. And to have to assert their rights I suppose through a legal system is very difficult. There is nothing specific around the COVID list, around anything specifically around CALD communities. I mean, obviously it was set up pretty quickly. It's still in its sort of tentative stages. But these are all important issues around access to justice more broadly for those particularly vulnerable communities. More work does need to be done at a systemic level and in an ongoing way to ensure that these opportunities and options are available. But of course, they can go to community legal centres, Women's Legal Services and other community legal centres that can provide an access point to, you know, looking at options that they might have.

MS HOLLONDS: And you would be using interpreters in those centres as required?

MS LYNCH: Oh absolutely, yes absolutely yes, yep so all community legal centres do have access to the telephone interpreter service. And you know obviously I would be referring for women who are affected by violence, if they could contact you know, Women's Legal Services around the country and obviously other community legal centres as well. It is a free service and generally those issues, if they are from a culturally and linguistically diverse background and there are issues of violence their cases will be hopefully prioritised when they come to those centres.

MS HOLLONDS: On the theme of legal services and legal issues, here's a question:

'If you had to prioritise the top five legal issues that victims need to know more information about, what would they be?'

MS LYNCH: Well from a family law perspective it is that, don't enter into shared parenting arrangements, or any parenting arrangement with a perpetrator of violence if at all possible without getting legal, you know, specialist legal advice. In particular, you know, from a – I would be saying a Women's Legal Service as that's our specialist approach around domestic violence and family law. So, to know that their rights that they are able to get legal advice before they do that. Because that is just so key, it can set them – if they start to enter into those shared parenting laws early, it can set them on a trajectory that is really a little bit of a disaster. And you know, then it's dangerous for them and for their children. Other legal issues? Or do you just want general? Wider than the Family Law Act? You know it's - - -

MS LYNCH: Well I think this is for domestic violence victims specifically.

Yes specifically, well I think that up here in Queensland since the Hannah Clarke – the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children she was a victim of it would seem, from the public statements that were made around that case, a victim of quite extensive coercive and controlling behaviour. So that issue about whether coercive and controlling, a specific offence should be brought in? We recognise that there are a range of issues around that. But I think, up here – I mean, what we've advocated for is a bit of a review of the Criminal Code as it relates to domestic violence. Specifically considering that coercive controlling offence, updating stalking laws, you know there's some issues around domestic violence protection orders. And making decisions around who is the person most in need of protection. There's a range of, yes sort of different laws that do need a bit of reconsideration.

So just on that point, we did also have a question about that issue.

MS HOLLONDS: 'So under the current laws, how do you prove the non-physical coercive manipulation?'

MS LYNCH: Yes, see that's – you can do it with a, you know with a good lawyer who knows about domestic violence, you're going to be ahead of other people. But that's when it becomes really important that the psychologist and social workers that work in the courts and provide family reports are able to inform the court from a domestic violence perspective about these issues and bring it to the court’s attention. So really, basically what you would be – you would be using an affidavit that spoke about those issues in a very detailed way. You would then be also hoping that this psychological report that's done, if it's actually domestic violence informed can pull those issues together in a psycho/social way and provide the evidence to the court around how possibly dangerous this kind of behaviour is, the highly controlling behaviour, but that requires a domestic violence informed court to be doing that. And a level of expertise in those psycho/social reports.

MS HOLLONDS: And a lawyer – so you have to have a number of things in place M'hmm.

MS LYNCH: in relation to making sure that, that actually all comes together, yes.


MS LYNCH: It's difficult yes.

MS HOLLONDS: It's difficult. Now we're starting to run out of time, so I know, you didn't get to do your top five but you did give us some legal issues for

MS HOLLONDS: Yes people to pay attention to. I might just go, if we can quickly go to a couple of other questions while we still have time.

'Do you have figures specific to children with disability and abuse related to domestic violence?

So someone asking about children with disability? You're probably - not off the top of your head - - -

MS LYNCH: Oh sorry I don't have that, yes I don't have any of that in the material that I've got. I'm not sure that – yes, if that does exist at all? But I'm sure that, maybe a children's service or a children's – maybe AIFS would have some of that material perhaps in their - in the research they've conducted in this area, yes?

MS HOLLONDS: And, someone asking about:

'Do we know how many deaths there have been during COVID-19 and how do these impact the reforms, given they receive the most media attention?'

MS LYNCH: Well I think that in May there were eight women killed in Australia, when the average – if you want an average of women killed, is only four. Over the last couple of days – over the last four days we've had two – we've had four quite horrific attacks of women. Two women have been killed and two more are in hospital. And yes, just overnight in Queensland there was another horrible matter of a woman killed and allegedly in front of her three children in Rockhampton. So a very sort of sombre reminder that the predictions of those experts by the women's violence, women's anti-violence experts may well be coming true in relation to, as the social restrictions at least in the rest of the country, perhaps not in Victoria are easing. That there's some of these concerns. What was the – I've forgotten the second part of the question Anne sorry.

MS HOLLONDS: Oh no it was just about how they might impact the reforms going forward. But I think what you're saying really is, that we need to remain vigilant now through this next period. That it's absolutely not over yet.

MS LYNCH: Absolutely, yes.

And it could get worse.

MS HOLLONDS: So I want to go to just one final question, and apologies if we hadn't got to your question. Sorry I was just looking at two questions at once here. And I'm interested in this one too, so thank you for the questioner.

Can you comment on any gaps in information research and research that's needed to respond to domestic and family violence situations in this period going forward?

Like what's the missing information that we should be gathering right now? Do we have all the information we need and we're just not acting on it or is there more that we should be getting?

MS LYNCH: Look I do think we have a lot information that we're not acting on. And we probably – it's really you know, listening to the experts I suppose in relation to trying to avoid risk and deaths rather than waiting for them to occur and then research about how we should've done something about it. Look I think that there are a range of gaps. I mean, I would refer that person to the annual reports of the - well I mean, you know, the Queensland Domestic Violence Death Review Board identify huge gaps. And also it could be really interesting for researchers to sort of see, you know, there's statistics in there where they could then sort of pick up some issues and then maybe delve into them a little bit more. They probably – those reports exist in other states as well. So I'd be looking at those reports for more information in relation to research in the future, yes.

MS HOLLONDS: And I really want to commend you Angela, I think your presentation today has really highlighted a range of information that is available. That needs to be noticed. We need to pay attention to. And I'd like to thank you for the work that you've put into this and it's been a real honour to be able to get this information from you and your perspectives on how we can move forward. So thank you very much on behalf of all of us. I'm going to – now you can see on the screen everyone, there's some helpline numbers there if you need to contact those.

At the end of the webinar, a little survey will pop up if you could take a couple of minutes just to complete that we'd be very grateful. As I mentioned in my introduction, we've had to postpone our conference. Angela is one of the speakers at our conference next year. And I'm sure you'll agree with me, it will be a session not to be missed. And so you can now actually register for that conference and there'll be much more information flowing shortly about the res-scheduled AIFS conference. Next week we've got the final two webinars in this Families In Focus series for in June.

We have Jay Weatherill talking about the early childhood system on the 30th. And Kelly Hand from AIFS is going to be talking about our new survey, Families in Australia, Life during COVID-19 on the 2nd of July. So don't miss out on those. More details on our website if you want to have a look. So finally, thank you again, Angela. It's been an absolute pleasure and privilege to have you with us today. And to have your presentation which will be available on our website for those who couldn't join us. We're very, very grateful for you putting the work into it and being with us here today.

MS LYNCH: Thanks Anne and thanks to AIFS, yes thank you so much.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks everyone, look forward to seeing you on Tuesday with Jay Weatherill, bye.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action

Slide outline

1. COVID-19, FDV and solutions from a legal perspective – with a focus on family law

Angela Lynch AM 
Women’s Legal Service Queensland

2. Acknowledgements

“I would like to begin by paying my respects to the Jagera and Turrbal people, the traditional owners on the land in which I am presenting today and all the traditional owners from each of your respective locations.

I would like to pay respects to the Elders past, present and emerging and to all First Nation’s people participating today.”

3. Women’s Legal Service Queensland

Who is Women’s Legal Service QLD?

  • WLSQ provides free legal advice, representation and assistance to approximately 16 000 women/ year.
  • We provide a State-wide service through our DV legal Helpline.
  • We assist in the areas of domestic violence, family law (separation, children, property, child support), child protection, financial abuse, some sexual violence matters.
  • We operate out of Brisbane and smaller offices at Caboolture (northside) and Gold Coast (southside).
  • We are active in community legal education and law reform/ policy work at a State and national level.

4. How we help

Free legal advice for women in Qld with domestic violence, family law, child protection and some sexual assault matters

  • Statewide legal advice helpline
  • Rural regional and remote priority line
  • Evening drop-in legal advice sessions
  • Duty lawyer services
  • Brisbane women's correction centre service
  • Family relationship centre services
  • Domestic violence units (Intensive support)
  • Counselling notes protect - sexual assault
  • Financial abuse prevention unit
  • Health justice partnerships
  • Social work support
  • Apps and innovative publications
  • Education, training, advocacy and law reform to increase access to help

5. Last financial year

Text description of infographics:

  • We provided 30,000 services to women 
    • 9,761 calls answered on the Helpline
    • 26% increase from 2017-2018
  • 24% of clients with a disability
  • 5% of clients identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • 85% of clients have experience DV
  • 26% clients experiencing or at risk of homelessness
  • 32% belive the safety of themselves and their kids is at risk now
  • 64% of clients are on Centreline or no income

6. Covid-19 impacts on DV Victims

Covid-19 & Domestic violence

Staying home 
Increased daily contact and inability to disengage or avoid each other.  Increased monitoring of daily activities by perpetrator.  Victims have fewer opportunities to plan to leave or access supports including professional supports, mental health impacts on victims.

financial stress/conflict, fewer resources to leave, more time at home with perpetrator, unable to access supports or tech through for example, work. Increased alcohol/ drug consumption.

Restrictions/closure of public spaces/visitors to home 
Increased opportunities for constant monitoring and fewer safe spaces for handover for children.  Pressure to re-negotiate parenting arrangements affected by school/sport/playground restrictions and contact centre closures. Cut off from social supports and child care/ school attendance, home schooling pressures

7. Emergence of “shadow pandemic”

  • UN Women has termed the trend a “shadow pandemic”.
  • In an April briefing, the UN body estimated that 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 had experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months.
  • It said that, during this crisis, such violence would likely “increase as security, health and money worries heighten tensions and strains are accentuated by cramped and confined living conditions”.
  • On 6 April, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged “all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic”.

'Violence against women and girls: the shadow pandemic', Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, Monday, April 6, 2020,

8. QDVSN worker survey

QDVSN worker survey May 2020, 116 DV workers across Qld

  • 90% agreed that the presentation of clients were more complex during COVID
  • What are the key issues you are continuing to see?
    • 70% Escalation/worsening of violence
    • 74% Employment issues
    • 76% Mental health for women
    • 69% Housing
  • Key issues identified
    • 36% Escalation/worsening of violence
    • 28% Violence/abuse covid related e.g Financial pressures
  • Any increase in client numbers?
    • 42% Yes
    • 25% No
    • 32% Somewhat
  • What type of violence are you seeing worsening?
    • 81.3% Escalation of control and manipulation
    • 49% Using covid as a reason for the abuse
    • 36% Increase in non physical abuse
    • 33% Threats to kill
    • 28.5 Suicidal ideation
    • 19% Visit ER
  • Other issues
    • 100% Of frontline workers saw an increase in anger and violence due to income/loss/job loss due to covid
    • 67% More time to drink/drugs
    • 53% Using covid to say not allowed to leave the home.

9. Statistics

Covid-19 and FDV

  1. Google searches for DV help 
    75% Increase in Google searches for DV help
  2. Calls to helplines 
    11% Increase in calls to 1800RESPECT 
    26% Increase in calls to Mensline (compared to same period last year)
  3. Increase in children exposed FDV 
    Act of kids report increase in children exposed to FDV across Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Mackay offices
  4. 4. Women's Safety NSW survey 
    42% of FDV workers reported increased caseloads during Covid-19 restrictions 
    70% Reported increased complexity of cases.

10. Monash study

  • Almost 60 per cent of practitioners said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women.
  • Half of the respondents said the severity of violence had increased.
  • The number of first-time family violence reports had gone up 42 per cent of the practitioners surveyed.
  • Practitioners themselves were struggling working from home, which was "wreaking havoc" on their boundaries and mental health.

11. Possible reasons for complexity

Some possible reasons for complexity?

  • Increased use of drugs/alcohol in client case load
  • Complex Mental health issues
  • Women with no incomes
  • Isolation and lack of support
  • Health issues and vulnerability to Covid-19
  • Increased sexual violence/harassment/intimidation in the home (may include room mates in lockdown).
  • Violence by older children against mothers (not wanting to involve police/legal response, limited service responses
  • Differential action by QPS - ongoing issue but with less "other" options increased danger/concern

12. COVID-19 and Family Law

  • Wreaked havoc on many parenting agreements – the majority of which involved FDV.
  • 50- 90% of the calls to the WLSQ DV Statewide Helpline changed to COVID-19 and parenting.
  • Many were first time clients – who had not previously been in contact with WLSQ
  • For a range of complex reasons – many DV victims are sharing the parenting of children with the perpetrator
  • DV victims put up with a lot of bullying and controlling behaviour via these shared parenting agreements – however, when they sense their children were in danger b/c COVID they sought legal advice.

13. Family law courts since the pandemic

14. Family Courts COVID List

Introduced in April 2020 as a direct result of the impact of COVID in parenting arrangements:

  • Urgent, heard within 72 hours, less paperwork, national an electronic.
  • A direct COVID link is required – supervised contact issues, cross border issues, health issues, there has been an increased risk of FDV due to COVID.
  • Reasoning – from a perspective of DV safety and risk mitigation.

Text description: Screenshot of a Women's Legal Service QLD information sheet extracted from

29 April 2020

We expect that over the next few months many women will have questions about parenting matters but they may have difficulty obtaining legal advice. To assist, we have prepared this information brochure. It attempts to provide some guidance. It does not provide an answer to every question. This current situation is unprecedented and there may not be a perfect solution to your question. The regulations are constantly changing, and this information is current at the date of publication. This brochure is a guide only, not legal advice. If you are able, it is always preferable to obtain legal advice about your particular situation, especially if there has been domestic and family violence.

Women’s Legal Service is providing legal advice to women during the pandemic. If you need advice please call our Helpline on 1800 957 957 (Mon – Fri 9am to 3pm) to make an appointment.

15. Press release: worse to come

Key domestic violence experts are issuing a joint warning that the transition out of these measures will also compound safety risks over the months and potentially years of this recovery period.

Decades of evidence about perpetrator behaviour shows that governments must now plan for:

  • Risk of escalating abuse in the home as isolation measures begin to lift, and some perpetrators using violence in response to the loss of control they have been able to exert in the home during lockdown;
  • Surges in contact with services from victim-survivors who haven’t had the ability to safely reach out for help while they were trapped in constant proximity with their abuser;
  • Escalation of surveillance, harassment and threats by separated abusive partners as they are able to travel to victim-survivors’ residences again;
  • Increased numbers of women requiring crisis accommodation and case management support, as windows of opportunity for them to escape open for the first time in weeks;
  • Increase in the use of violence by perpetrators when their dominance in the household is threatened by job loss or financial insecurity; and
  • Greater barriers to escape for women whose financial security is undermined by job loss or financial insecurity.

(AWAVA and Fair Agenda 7th May 2020)

16. Existing systemic weaknesses

The pandemic shines a light on existing systemic weaknesses

  • Why so many cases of shared parenting despite the existence of domestic violence and abuse?
  • Women seek our advice often after already entering into equal time shared care arrangements for children.
  • They believe it is the law or he says it is the law, right, fair, they try to appease him to lower the risk of violence/ ongoing abuse
  • They discover after a period of time it doesn’t but can be extremely difficult to later change these arrangements.

17. AIFS Court Outcomes Project part 1

Text description: Table 3.26 sets out the results of the analysis examining patterns in orders for parental responsibility in cases where allegations of family violence and/or child abuse were raised before and after the reforms, on the basis of all the cases in the sample. Consistent with the findings reported above, shared parental responsibility outcomes are stable where no family violence and/or child abuse was alleged. Non-statistically significant shifts are evident in relation to matters where one or both of these issues were raised. Shared parental responsibility outcomes in cases where both issues were raised fell slightly, from 72% to 70%. Such outcomes increased slightly where one of these issues was raised in the absence of the other, from 80% to 84%.


View table on: 

18. AIFS Court Outcomes Project - part 2

Text description: Table 3.29 shows the proportion of children in all files in the sample who  were subject to orders for shared care time before and after the reforms, according to whether  allegations of family violence and/or child abuse had been raised in their matters. The table shows a statistically significant diminution in the proportion of children with shared care-time  outcomes where allegations of both family violence and child abuse were raised, with these  falling from 19% to 11% after the reforms. A less substantial fall is reflected for children where either allegation was raised separately, with 17% having care-time outcomes before the reforms,  compared with 15% after the reforms. Patterns for children where neither of these issues were  raised were substantially similar (22% pre- and post-reform).

View table on:

19. AIFS Court Outcomes Project - part 3

Text description: Table 3.33 sets out the results of the analysis, treating each type of determination separately (although results for children with neither kind of allegation in consent without litigation matters are not shown due to small sample sizes). Patterns in orders for shared care time and shared parental responsibility in cases where no allegations of family violence or child abuse were raised were largely stable, with two exceptions. In the consent after proceedings sample, shared care-time orders fell from 29% to 13% (statistically significant). In the consent without litigation sample, shared care-time orders rose from 21% to 26%. In cases where both allegations were raised, judicial determination matters showed a statistically significant reduction in shared parental responsibility orders (down 21 percentage points to 33%). Shared care-time orders in this category were identified in 9% of pre-reform files as opposed to 8% of post-reform files. Conversely, shared care-time orders in the consent after proceedings sample diminished by a statistically significant 13 percentage points to 12%. Shared parental responsibility orders in this category were identified in 83% of pre-reform files, compared to 88% of post-reform files. In cases where only one of these allegations was raised, the most noteworthy change is in relation to shared parental responsibility orders in the judicial determination sample: these fell by 11 percentage points to 34%. For shared care-time arrangements in this category there was an increase post-reform of 3 percentage points. In the consent after proceedings sample, there appears to be a trend towards shared care-time outcomes post-reform being marginally lower (19% cf. 15%) and shared parental responsibility outcomes marginally higher (93% cf. 96%), but neither were statistically significant.


View table on:

20. Extent of FDV in the family courts

  • Exact statistics are not known but indications are it is the overwhelming majority of cases.
  • AIFS research found 85% of parents report a history of emotional abuse, 54% report physical hurt, 46% safety concerns (See ALRC Inquiry report into Family Law paragraphs 3.87 – 3.90 for a summary)
  • Family Violence or child abuse present in:
    •    70% of matters resolved by judicial determination;
    •   60% of matters resolved by consent after   proceedings were initiated but prior to trial;
    •   38% of cases had 4 or more risk factors. (see ALRC   paragraph 10.85 quoting AIFS research)

21. Findings from QLD DFV Death Review Board

  • Prevalence of lethality risk factors in intimate partner homicides (2011-2017)
  • Child custody/access disputes – 19.2%
  • CALD specific– 35.7%
  • (Annual Report, 2017/18 Table 23 and 24)
  • The 2018/19 Annual Report compares filicide (in context of DFV and Intimate Partner Homicide risk factors) and there were notable differences including in filicide – the existence of Custody/access disputes as a risk factor.
  • Of note in several cases considered by the board the issue of financial dependence/ financial abuse was identified as a barrier to leaving especially in regional areas with money being tied up in assets, partners overwhelming control of the assets.

22. Cultural beliefs that shape family law systemic responses:

  • Physical violence is given precedence over the impact of nonphysical forms of violence.  This is despite some of the nonphysical forms of violence and coercive controlling violence being one of the most dangerous forms of dv. 
  • The cause of violence is relationship conflict, that is, the violence is caused by the stresses of marriage or the relationship.  It follows that once the relationship ends the violence will stop.  Again, this ignores the reality that the months leading up to separation and after are the most dangerous for women and children escaping domestic violence. 
  • Another cultural or systemic understanding that our client’s experience is that violence against women and violence against children are mutually exclusive.  That is, you can be a domestic violence perpetrator but still a good dad. Research has found that rarely is a child solely exposed to DFV at the exclusion of other forms of abuse.  Almost 60% of children with lived experiences of DFV have also experienced another form of child abuse (Hambly et al., 2010).  Common co-occurring abuse includes emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect (Jouriles et al., 2008).. (for a summary of the research)
  • An overall failure to at a system's level to appropriately recognise and respond to perpetrator presentations and tactics, the use of children as a means of control and the use of litigation/systems abuse.
  • Overall emphasis on cooperative parenting rather than safety.

23. The victim’s dilemma

She says dealing with the courts was almost worse than staying: 

“it seems being accused of being unsupportive of the children’s relationship with their father is given greater weight by a court than whether the father has exposed the children to violence.”

“Children aren’t stupid. They are born fluent in the language of love and trust, and despite your best efforts, they are inevitably unsettled when your maternal mouth says one thing but the fear in your eyes says another. And so begins the subtle and largely unacknowledged undermining of the relationship between victim parent and child, brought to you by the system set up to protect them both.”

‘I fled my abusive husband in my pyjamas – but dealing with the courts was almost worse than staying’, Anonymous, The Guardian,

24. Poor lawyering

Text description: Screenshot from Sadie's story

Sadie (not her real name) is an Aboriginal woman and a mother of two children – a young daughter with high needs and a teenage son. Sadie experienced intimate partner violence perpetrated by her ex-partner/father of her children that included verbal and physical abuse. After separating from her ex-partner, Sadie accessed multiple service systems, including family law, housing and child protection. Navigating these complex systems created further challenges and was traumatic for Sadie. On top of these challenges, her ex-partner sometimes used the service system to continue his perpetration of domestic and family violence.

‘Sadie’s Story’, ANROWS,

25. A safer way forward for family law

Text description: A screenshot of the flyer summary: A safer way forward for the family law system

  • Better decision making for child and adult survivors of domestic and family violence (DFV).
  • Safer orders and agreements
  • Holding perpetrators accountable for their violence.
  • One user-centred, specialist Family and FDV Court
  • Develop a specialist consistent approach to DFV cases in family law system with standardised triage and a new risk and safety focus
  • Implement DFV informed laws and case management systems that are appropriate, flexible and keep perpetrators accountable
  • Implement a coordinated State and Federal approach to the investigation of child abuse and DFV against children, post separation
  • Commit to continuous improvement by building greater accountability at all stages of the system


  • Safer parenting orders 
  • More equitable financial settlements
  • Orders that are more sustainable long term
  • Decreased litigation through more specialist diversionary programs that resolve disputes with a focus on safety at an earlier stage and improved case management that limits systems and financial abuse by perpetrators.

26. A safer way forward for family law part 2

Text description: A screenshot of the flyer - A safer way forward for the family law system.

One user-centred, specialist Family and FDV Court

1.1 A single specialist Family and DFV Court (the Federal Circuit Court to merge with and become a lower level of the Family Court) is needed with a single entry point, one set of rules and procedures, case management and consistent decision makers, legislatively guaranteed judicial appointments with adequate DFV and family law experience. 
1.2 Develop high risk DFV court pathways that lead to early decision making about the presence of DFV and adopt an inquisitorial like approach. 
1.3 Flexible court case management and assessments to consider appropriateness of specialist DFV diversionary programs (mediation) with some listed matters looped back into community agencies for specialised DFV mediation or alternative dispute resolution or other assistance. 
1.4 Court system to be alert to financial and systems abuse by perpetrators and respond appropriately. 
1.5 Fund specialist DFV lawyers at all stages for safety and efficiency. 
1.6 Develop a rural, regional and remote specific FDV Court plan to improve access e.g. consider greater use of technology through virtual courts.

Develop a specialist consistent approach to DFV cases in family law system with standardised triage and a new risk and safety focus

2.1 Develop a standardised DFV risk assessment to determine safest and best interventions. 
2.2 Utilise specialist DFV family reports and develop capability of other report writers in relation to DFV.  
2.3 Recognise the family law system begins at the door of Family Relationship Centres and develop specialist high risk domestic violence pathway from community agencies to court (incorporating fast track legal aid grants). 
2.4 Adopt a DFV safety and risk approach determining early when DFV is present, what matters require litigation and those that can be diverted to FDR and those that can be safely assisted with specialist support and assistance. 
2.5 Adopt recommendations from Women's Legal Service Victoria's Small Claims Big Battles Report. 
2.6 Amend Family Law Act to enable courts to have regard to the effects of DFV in property matters reflecting strong links between DFV and poverty.

27. A safer way forward for family law

Text description: A screenshot of the flyer - A safer way forward for the family law system.

Implement DFV informed laws and case management systems that are appropriate, flexible and keep perpetrators accountable

3.1 Use of specialist DFV expert reports for courts to understand the nature of relationship and power dynamics and impacts on children and adult caregivers. 
3.2 Embed DFV specialist support workers and specialist domestic violence legal services in courts. 
3.3 Fund specialist DFV Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution models (specialist FDR when there is FDV) as an extra layer of assistance for victims. 
3.4 Accredited, specialised parenting programs for fathers who are DFV perpetrators and programs for mothers whose parenting may have been affected by DFV. 
3.5 Removal of the presumption of equal shared parenting responsibility from the Family Law Act and amend the laws in a way that prioritises safe outcomes and de-incentivises systems abuse by perpetrators.

Implement a coordinated State and Federal approach to the investigation of child abuse and DFV against children, post separation

4.1 Develop whole of government responses at a Federal and State level to how child abuse allegations post separation will be investigated (by whom, how it will be funded and the interrelationship between the investigatory agencies, Family and Domestic Violence Court and other courts including criminal courts). 
4.2 Develop robust information sharing pathways between the Family and DFV Court, child protection, and magistrates courts regarding DFV.

Commit to continuous improvement by building greater accountability at all stages of the system

5.1 Accreditation of all court report writers and child contact centres. 
5.2 Develop a national, transparent and public approach to DFV deaths in the family law system – a system of case review to understand systemic issues and make recommendations for change with the use of independent experts. 
5.3 Specialised DFV training for all family law system professionals including judicial officers. 
5.4 Establish an independent, Federal Judicial Commission for judicial appointments, training and complaint handling.


  • Safer parenting orders
  • More equitable financial settlements
  • Orders that are more sustainable long term
  • Decreased litigation through more specialist diversionary programs that resolve disputes with a focus on safety at an earlier stage and improved case management that limits systems and financial abuse by perpetrators.

28. Acknowledge positive court actions (and government support)

  • Establishing the COVID list – especially acknowledging it as necessary to reduce violence/ risk
  • The Evatt list – a high risk DV pathway in the Family Court to be piloted in Parramatta, Adelaide and Brisbane.
  • Introducing risk screening and triage.

29. Support

If this webinar has generated any feeling of distress, please contact

Ph: 13 11 14 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, contact

Ph: 1800 737 732 

30. AIFS 2021 Conference

15-18 June 
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Registrations now open!

31. Families in Focus upcoming webinar

A new early childhood development system for Australia 
Jay Weatherill, Chief Executive Officer, Thrive by Five, Minderoo Foundation

32. Families in Focus upcoming webinar

Findings from the Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19 
Kelly Hand, Deputy Director, Research


Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service Qld

Angela is a lawyer and advocate for survivors of domestic and family violence. Over 23 years in the Queensland domestic violence legal sector, Angela has developed a deep understanding of the issues confronting women who have experienced domestic violence – translating practical legal knowledge and experience into significant law reform, policy, community legal education and safer client outcomes.

As CEO of the Women’s Legal Service, Angela guides the specialist community legal centre to build safer futures for Queensland women and their children – championing frontline operations, external advocacy, client services and fundraising.

In 2019 Angela was awarded an AM in the Australia Day Honour’s List for her service to victims of domestic and family violence.

In 2016 Angela was appointed to the Queensland Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board. This board was formed by the Queensland Government in response to findings of the Not Now, Not Ever report and makes recommendations to the Minister about improvements to legislation, policies, practices, services, training, resources and communication to prevent or reduce the likelihood of domestic and family violence deaths in Queensland.

Angela’s dedication to the sector was acknowledged in October 2017 when she was awarded the Lawyer’s Weekly Women in Law Not-for-profit Lawyer of the Year and Women in Law Excellence Award and the Women’s Agenda National Emerging Leader in the Legal Sector award.