Family law proceedings

Cautionary note: some people may find reading these victim experiences distressing or traumatising.

These de-identified victim experiences summarise the content of interviews undertaken with people who have experienced domestic and family violence and legal system engagement. The interviewees’ names and some minor details of their narratives have been changed to protect their identities. In many cases the names have been selected by the interviewees.

The key words align with the contents covered in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.

  • Erin and Seth married and lived together for 12 years. Both are from rural farming backgrounds. They have three children who were quite young at separation. Erin has post-graduate qualifications and over some years has acquired recognised expertise. Seth did not finish high school, however has a diploma and farming-related experience. Erin had a troubled relationship with her own family through the marriage, which has continued after separation. She feels she was blamed for a poor choice in Seth and then for the marital breakdown. Erin has been excluded from the family farming business and assets but she places a strong value on family and has endeavoured to foster a relationship, especially so the children would know their grandparents, uncle, and cousins. There is also a history of antagonism by Seth’s family towards Erin with the exception of one family member who has remained supportive.

    Over the course of the marriage, Erin experienced negative, controlling interference from her own and Seth’s families including verbal and physical abuse in the presence of the children. It became problematic to involve family in the care of the children while Erin and Seth attended to work responsibilities; consequently, they stopped doing things together so that one would be available to stay home with the children.

    A significant rupture occurred in the family when Seth was involved in a serious accident making him lose confidence. Seth’s own family farming business—in which he worked, and he and Erin had a part interest—was then sold. Seth struggled to adjust, and financial security from the farm sale took away the urgency to work which was not a good combination. Erin says Seth had a career crisis and he insisted that she and the children travel around with him looking for other opportunities. It was during this time that Seth began denigrating Erin, blaming her for joint financial decisions they previously made, claiming she was inept and incapable of making basic decisions. Erin believed that Seth was jealous of her achievements and humiliating her was his way of dealing with his own deficits. She also believed that throughout the marriage Seth deliberately set about to isolate her from her professional and personal networks so as to limit her capacity to progress in her own work and life. Over time, the situation became intolerable to Erin. From time to time, she would drive away from wherever they were staying to get some brief respite. Erin was aware that Seth had an arsenal of guns (he and his father are hunters), and, as Seth’s behaviour became more irrational, she became increasingly worried about how he might use them.

    Eventually, Seth decided to move interstate to be closer to his family and to have time to find himself. He tried to deliver Erin and the children to Erin’s family, but they refused to house them on the family property. Erin and the children were forced to live with Seth in motels for a number of months before Erin organised a rental house, a quite expensive one that was the only one he would agree to. Within weeks of moving in, Seth was spending more time away than at home, and would take the family car. Erin ended up having to pay for the rental house and purchase another car. The couple separated and a year after reaching a property settlement, Erin felt she and the children were emotionally able to move to a house she bought in her own right. She hoped to give the children a sense of stability as Seth’s week about contact with them was erratic, and each changeover time was an opportunity for him to put her down in front of the children. In the time following separation Seth’s abusive behaviour towards Erin escalated considerably. He also took deliberate steps to recruit Erin’s and his own family as participants in the abuse. In one year after separation Seth again moved interstate and chose to see the children for only limited time on school holidays.

    The couple divorced and agreed on a parenting plan, through solicitors, for the care of the children: they would live with Erin and spend four nights each fortnight with Seth. Seth never followed the arrangement; he would take or leave the children as he wished, and refused to consult Erin or comply with any routine.

    Seth finally got a job and permanent accommodation on the farm where he worked. The couple’s sons were then involved in an accident while at the farm with Seth. The youngest suffered a head injury and Seth didn’t seek suitable medical support, driving him to town instead of calling an ambulance. It wasn’t as serious as feared, but the child experienced health issues and was absent from school as a result. It was clear to Erin that she hadn’t been given a truthful account of the accident. It became apparent to Erin that her family were concerned about Seth’s parenting, calling him irresponsible in front of the children on many occasions, and suggesting that he not have contact with them. Erin found herself having to stand up for the children’s right to have both parents in their lives, resulting on further conflict with her own parents. Seeming to take advantage of this rift, Seth encouraged Erin’s parents to call for a Justice Examination Order to be issued placing Erin under surveillance by police and psychologists for around a week. During his contact time, Seth began alienating the two older children from Erin. He would report to Erin that they were afraid of her and that she was violent and abusive towards them when in her care. What significantly damaged Erin’s relationship with the older two children and prolonged proceedings was Seth’s encouragement of the eldest child to make assault allegations against Erin. She was charged and released on bail, and the charges were subsequently dismissed. This was traumatic and humiliating for Erin.

    On one occasion, Seth assaulted Erin in the children’s presence and then drove off with all three children in the car. The police were called but no action was taken to return the children to Erin. As a consequence, Erin made an application to the Family Court for interim parenting orders. The first family report highlighted alienating and aligning behaviour by Seth in relation to the two older children and concluded that it was clear that Seth wanted Erin out of the children’s lives. The court ordered that the three children live with Erin and have contact with Seth three weekends in every four. Counselling was ordered for all three children; however Seth later withdrew the two older children from counselling accusing the counsellor of not doing what he expected of her.

    Seth subsequently breached the interim parenting orders. During this time, child safety initially removed the children from both parents and then, on application, delivered them to Seth’s family pending a further interim hearing in the Family Court. Further interim parenting orders were made requiring that the children live with Seth and allowing Erin to have weekly two-hour contact visits at a safe house and periodic phone calls. Erin found these visits totally humiliating as she felt she was watched and listened to. She believes this forced the older two children further away from her because, as teenagers, they hated the space.

    Erin was advised by her solicitor not to apply for a protection order as those proceedings may jeopardise or delay the proceedings in the Family court.

    It was another 12 months before the parenting matters came to a final hearing in the Family Court. The second family report confirmed the alienation tactics highlighted in the first report. The judge acknowledged this conclusion and indicated that it wasn’t appropriate for Seth to care for the youngest child for extended periods. There was however no broader recognition of Seth’s violence and abuse. The judge did not give any credit to the allegations regarding Erin’s mental ill health. Seth tried to accuse Erin of being an alcoholic.

    The family report writer was the only witness in the proceedings. The court ordered that the two older children live with Seth and be free to visit Erin as they wish, and that the youngest child return to live with Erin, with fortnightly weekend contact with Seth. Erin believes that the 12 month delay gave Seth the opportunity to cause a great deal of psychological harm to the two older children in continuing his alienating tactics. Whilst an Independent Children’s Lawyer was appointed, Erin observed that the ICL met with the children only once and otherwise performed no obviously useful function; she found that she had to insist that the ICL explain the orders to the two older children as she was very concerned that they believed the court had ordered that they not have contact with her.

    These parenting arrangements have continued now for 10 months. Child safety found that Seth’s allegations against Erin regarding her mental ill health and unfitness to care for the children were unsubstantiated. Still, Erin has no meaningful contact with her two older children. There are the occasional texts and phone calls, but they are commonly abusive towards Erin; periodically, they involve coaxing their younger sibling into disclosing information about or making demands of their mother. Changeover for the youngest child typically occurs at a service station midway between the parents’ houses. Seth uses these opportunities to put down Erin, and when the two older children accompany him, they remain in the car and turn their backs to her.

    Seth’s allegations against Erin were never substantiated and yet post separation and throughout the course of the Family Court proceedings, Seth was able to alienate their two older children from Erin and, consequently, the youngest child. Erin has felt frustrated by the lack of communication or connection between the various courts and agencies that govern her and her children’s circumstances. She remains very concerned about her relationship with her two older children, and their relationship with their younger sibling, and whether there is any prospect that they will get the help they need to positively rebuild these relationships. While the court ordered counselling, it has only occurred once for the oldest two. There is now almost no communication between the oldest two children and Erin. Erin is frustrated with the court order allowing the older children to see her as they choose, believing it denies any hope of her having a good relationship with them.

    Erin is now in financial trouble. While Erin was able to purchase her own home as a result of the early property settlement reached with Seth, since then she has had to borrow money on that security to fund her legal fees in the order of $100,000. Meanwhile, she has started a consultancy business, the returns from which are predictably modest through the building phase. She has received supplementary benefits from Centrelink; however she is currently facing (what she believes are unfounded) claims that she was overpaid. At no stage was Erin entitled to legal aid, whereas Seth received legal aid funding throughout despite having significant financial support from his family. She has recently missed her daughter’s birthday and is struggling to focus on her work. She feels like she needs a miracle. Financially, she lives day to day, trying to make sure she can provide well enough for her youngest child.

  • Felicity and Jason were in a relationship for two years, during which time they married and began living together. They separated soon after the birth of their only child who was diagnosed with Autism at a young age. Both are university educated and professionally qualified. Felicity now works part time and is studying to gain further qualifications. Jason is in highly-paid employment and is also retraining in another discipline. Their child, and Felicity’s two children from a previous marriage, live with Felicity in a house she owns. Jason has one child from a previous marriage; there are shared living and care arrangements in place with the mother, Jason’s first wife.

    Felicity recalls when she first met Jason that he wasn’t a charmer, but intelligent and engaging, quite persistent, and even somewhat deceitful in his interactions with her. She found him interesting, and welcomed a male role model/father figure for her two children who she was pleased readily clicked with his child. While her children would have alternate weekends with their father, Felicity had been mostly sole parenting for some years while working in a demanding full-time job, and she felt they needed more adult support.

    Felicity and Jason clashed from the start about parenting styles; Felicity put it down to the challenges associated with blending two families. Jason would often belittle his own child in front of her children, and early in the relationship he hit Felicity’s four-year old to the ground in the presence of his parents. Felicity told Jason never to touch the child again. Jason’s mother, who appeared to Felicity to be overly dominant in Jason’s life and their relationship, told her that she must leave Jason to discipline the children as he decided. The mother would ring Felicity daily.

    Both Felicity and Jason come from strong religious backgrounds, however Jason insisted that Felicity and her children convert to his faith in preparation for the marriage. Felicity stopped going to the church she and her close extended family attended, and was required to attend Jason’s church where she felt uncomfortable and yet Jason and his family put pressure on her to participate. In his early interactions with Felicity’s family, Jason was so aggressive and confrontational in his views and behaviour that he alienated Felicity from them. Soon Felicity was no longer seeing or speaking to her family despite living only houses away and the cousins being close in age and friendship. They didn’t attend Felicity and Jason’s wedding.

    Jason’s behaviour towards Felicity became more hostile and controlling. On an outing with the children, Felicity fell over in public and hurt herself; Jason laughed while others went to help her. When Jason travelled for work, as he often did, Felicity would ask Jason why he never called to talk with her and the children while he was away; Jason angrily accused her of checking up on him, and dictating when he must report to her. Jason’s mother told Felicity not to put demands on him. On their wedding night, Jason complained to Felicity about every aspect of the day, he threw a drink at her, tore a necklace from her neck, and pushed her up against the wall. A wedding guest witnessed the incident and went to seek help from other guests believing that Jason was about to hit Felicity; they intervened and took Jason away and he didn’t return to Felicity for a couple of days.

    Further conflict arose around Jason’s demands for a child; he argued that Felicity had given another man children, and he was therefore similarly entitled. Despite her hectic work schedule and both being away regularly, Felicity was pregnant within a month of marrying.

    When Felicity reprimanded his child for inappropriate comments, Jason held a knife to Felicity’s face. She withdrew to another room to diffuse the situation, and refused to comply when he demanded that she eat a meal with them. Jason told her she was “a piece of shit” and to “get the fuck out of my house” by the time he was back from church. At the time, Felicity’s children were holidaying with their father. Felicity packed some belongings and left to stay with a girlfriend, then travelled interstate for work; she made no contact with Jason until days later she told him she needed to come home and collect more belongings. Jason lectured her about sabotaging the family by causing trouble and leaving.

    Felicity had leased her own house out so it wasn’t available to move back into. She tried to talk to Jason’s mother about getting Jason to agree to Felicity taking over the lease on their current shared property so that when her children returned from holidays, they would be in familiar, settled surrounds; his mother refused, and told her she had to live with the situation she had caused. Jason told Felicity the relationship didn’t need to end; she should have tried to reconcile and now she needed “to fix her act up”. Jason then left for interstate to see friends. Felicity stayed on at the house as her children were coming home, she was pregnant, and she felt she had no other choices.

    Felicity and her sister began having contact again. The sister commented to Felicity that every six weeks Jason would explode, then disappear for a week, then return in good and generous spirits, then the cycle would start over.

    Around half way through Felicity’s pregnancy, Jason became angry and insistent about wanting a boy. He disappeared for a few days and arrived unexpectedly at the hospital where Felicity was having a scan. When told by the radiographer they were having a boy, he said “good” and left the hospital. Another argument soon followed about the baby’s name and christening arrangements. Felicity left to stay with her sister and, when she returned home, Jason threatened to shoot her (he had an unlicensed firearm), he threw her makeup and clothes out the window onto the concrete driveway, and again told her to get out of the house. Felicity managed to get to the car and drive away, then called the police, explaining the circumstances and that she was a government employee. When the police came to the house half an hour later, Jason had gone and Felicity’s sister had arrived. The police did not ask for any details about Jason or the incident, they gave Felicity no information about available protections, and, before leaving, simply asked her if she’d be “right”. With assistance from friends, Felicity moved all of her own and children’s belongings out of the house while Jason was absent, sent boxes to friends’ houses, and went to stay with her sister. This threw the family into chaos as they didn’t have access to what they needed, including the children’s school uniforms. Jason sent her abusive texts accusing her of ruining her children’s lives, and questioning her faith and who she worships.

    Felicity and Jason kept their finances separate: he provided the house, and she paid for all other expenses, unaware of his earnings or assets. Some months prior, Jason had pressured Felicity into buying a block of land together that they could develop. When it came time to settle, he claimed he had no money. Felicity solely funded the purchase despite the land being registered in joint names. At that stage, one month from giving birth, Felicity was committed to the mortgage on the land, she had tenants in her own home, and she was facing the prospect of having to pay rent on another house for herself and children.

  • Gillian and Kyle were in a defacto relationship for around six years. They have two children together, both very young at separation. Gillian has a certificate qualification and has been consistently employed in her specialised area of work. Kyle has a trade qualification, however was unemployed for most of the relationship due to a chronic pain condition. Kyle is a heavy drinker and prescription drug user; and Gillian suspects he has a form of anxiety and depression, however is not aware of any diagnosis. Kyle also has a police record including offences relating to unlicensed firearms, drink driving and assaulting police. Gillian has an older child from a previous relationship who lived periodically with the father and with Gillian and Kyle. Gillian has a good relationship with the child’s father.

    Gillian and Kyle met through Gillian’s previous partner and father of her eldest child. The relationship was on again-off again at the start. Looking back, Gillian recalls feeling a little insecure as a single mother with a young child, and confused and hurt by Kyle frequently putting her down and then apologising afterwards. Gillian made allowances for Kyle’s behaviour knowing that he was finding it difficult to cope with his mother’s death and had to undergo surgery. Kyle’s health deteriorated and Gillian spent some weeks caring for him. He developed longer term chronic pain, and started relying on a range of prescription medications while resuming a heavy drinking habit. Gillian describes Kyle’s reaction to his misuse of alcohol and medication as psychotic and terrifying. He is considerably bigger and stronger than Gillian and would, when in that state, throw heavy objects at Gillian and smash up the house.

    Gillian had decided to leave Kyle when she discovered that she was pregnant with their first child. Given the pregnancy, she felt she needed to try and make the relationship work. However, Kyle’s verbal and emotional abuse of Gillian worsened during the pregnancy, and after the birth, his drunken rages and throwing episodes became a regular occurrence, even when Gillian was holding the baby. Not long before Gillian gave birth to their second child, Kyle gave Gillian a solid shove in her stomach. When they were away on a holiday, Kyle became aggressive and violent when Gillian refused to give him her account access card. She had often given him money, which he’d recklessly spent; this time she wasn’t prepared to lose the only money she had for family and household expenses. Kyle grabbed and held Gillian forcefully until she was screaming and a friend had to pull him off her. She was severely bruised on her arms and neck as a result.

    Over time, Gillian learned to anticipate his behaviour and take preventative action to avoid being harmed. She says she got good at devising escape plans for herself and the children. Sometimes, she would sleep in the car overnight; other times, they would seek refuge at her mother’s house.

    Gillian lost contact with friends during her relationship with Kyle as they didn’t want to be around him when he was drunk and abusive. Gillian has a close relationship with her mother who had re-partnered, however she tried to shield her mother from a lot of the trauma she was experiencing. Kyle’s behaviour was revealed to some extent however at Gillian’s mother’s wedding where he was extremely intoxicated and became aggressive towards the groom. Gillian wanted the relationship with Kyle to be over, but didn’t know how to make it happen.

    In the year that Gillian gave birth to their second child, and for the first time in their relationship, Kyle found work interstate. Gillian was keen for him to earn some money and was grateful for some time apart despite having to look after three children by herself. Kyle didn’t help with the children in any event, and Gillian realised when he left that life and the household were so much more functional and stable. It was when he returned home for brief visits that everything seemed to fall apart. Gillian decided during this time that she must end the relationship; she had also discovered that Kyle had started seeing a former girlfriend. Gillian packed up her gear, put it into storage and moved with the children to her mother’s place. She felt she couldn’t stay at the house because she knew that Kyle would return and wreck it and possibly harm her and the children.

    Kyle moved elsewhere with his former girlfriend. He would harass Gillian with phone calls and text messages at all hours, up to forty each day, tormenting her with the details of his new relationship. Towards Christmas in the year of separation, Kyle told a friend he’d bought a handgun and was heading to Gillian with it; he told his sister (who passed on to Gillian) that “the bitch needs a bullet”. Gillian immediately packed up her gear again and, with the children, relocated interstate for two months as she believed Kyle was extremely dangerous.

    On returning, she went to apply for a protection order, but was told by the court support workers that too much time had elapsed since the threat and she would need to wait for Kyle’s abuse to resume. Before long Kyle began driving past Gillian’s mother’s place, texting Gillian’s eldest child, and repeatedly texting and screaming down the phone at Gillian, threatening to kill them all and telling her it was a shame she hadn’t died during a recent operation. This time, Gillian proceeded with a protection order application. She was represented, with legal aid funding. Initially, she obtained a temporary order for 12 months, however it was another year before the matter could go to a hearing as Kyle sought multiple adjournments, which Gillian believed was a deliberate tactic to frustrate her and the process. On the hearing date, Kyle arrived late, by which time the Magistrate had issued a two-year protection order on the basis that he didn’t deserve to be heard if he couldn’t be bothered to arrive on time. Kyle had also cross applied for an order against Gillian; however his application was dismissed as his allegations were unsubstantiated. Kyle tried to intimidate Gillian in the courthouse and precinct on mention dates.

    Gillian found the first few years post separation particularly harrowing. She had a new baby, as well the two older children, and was feeling emotionally rattled, fearful and unsafe. She reported breaches of the protection order by Kyle to the police; however she feels they never took her seriously and no charges resulted. Gillian received counselling that helped her to restore her confidence and capacity.

    During the period leading up to the final protection order, Gillian tried to find ways of giving Kyle contact time with the children without compromising her safety. She was advised to arrange it away from home in a busy, public space. She would take the children to the park where they could play with Kyle. This worked for a time until Kyle’s constant verbal abuse towards her became intolerable. Gillian’s mother and new partner then took over the supervision for a while, but they too were subjected to Kyle’s abuse and threats.

    With a view to applying to the Federal Circuit Court for parenting orders, Gillian arranged supervised contact through a private contact centre. Kyle didn’t respond to the proposal and went without seeing the children for many months. The parenting order application was also unduly prolonged over a two year period due to Kyle’s repeated delays and failure to comply with judicial directions (eg that he have liver function testing). There was a three-day trial. An independent children’s lawyer (ICL) was appointed. Gillian was represented, but this time without legal aid funding. She sought orders allowing supervised contact on the basis that Kyle was a chronic alcoholic and prescription drug misuser and the children were not safe in his sole care. Gillian had kept (and produced as evidence) numerous photographs of Kyle using drugs, notes written and signed by Kyle attesting to his own behaviour, and hundreds of text messages verifying her allegations. The judge issued self-executing orders requiring that if Kyle failed to complete a certain drug and alcohol course and deliver the necessary material to the ICL by a certain date, contact would be disallowed. The ICL signed off on Kyle having complied with the order and the judge accepted this, despite, in Gillian’s view, Kyle not completing all the requirements originally imposed by the judge. On a further court date, Kyle was granted unsupervised contact for five hours every second weekend.

    Fairly certain that a 12 hour course was unlikely to have remedied a 30 year drinking habit, Gillian took steps to ensure that the children were supervised by one of Kyle’s family members whom she trusted. This is working well. Changeover now occurs at a large service station, which Gillian finds unnerving so she makes sure she has a friend to accompany her.

    Gillian has sole parental responsibility for the children, and must only give Kyle notice of medical issues or a major relocation. Kyle had been paying negligible child support, and then stopped. Gillian got approval to relinquish child support on family violence grounds, while maintaining her full entitlement to the family tax benefit.

    Around this time, Kyle posted a message on Facebook directed at Gillian: “I hope you die excruciatingly”. She immediately went to the police and applied for a new protection order. This time the police were supportive. Gillian was not eligible for legal aid funding so appeared at the hearing self-represented, having prepared the necessary affidavit material. On this occasion, Kyle didn’t appear at all, and the Magistrate issued a two-year protection order in his absence. The order includes no contact conditions together with a prohibition on emailing, social media and any other form of harassment.

    Kyle previously owned the house he and Gillian lived in. Unknown to Gillian, he mortgaged the property and squandered the loan funds. Just prior to the birth of their first child, the loan was recalled and Kyle was unable to repay. Gillian’s mother and new partner bought the property for the amount Kyle owed. Gillian and Kyle and the children stayed on as tenants. They were entitled to whatever equity there was upon the sale of the property. In due course the property was sold leaving only a few thousand dollars after expenses. Kyle applied to the Federal Circuit Court for a property settlement seeking a share of the equity. Gillian expended more than $10,000 in legal fees responding to Kyle’s claim, and in the end the court dismissed the application on the basis that there was no property to divide.

    Gillian has made sure that Kyle is unaware of her mobile and landline numbers and her address. She has told the children that they must never disclose their address to Kyle; that they are free to see him at his home, but he is never to visit theirs.

    Gillian believes that it has been important for her safety to have protection orders in place against Kyle. She has become familiar with how the system works and confident to act when she needs to. She is grateful to her solicitor who was prepared to believe her story and take whatever steps necessary to ensure her protection and the wellbeing of her children. Gillian found her engagement with court processes frustrating as Kyle was permitted to repeatedly delay proceedings on spurious grounds. She found it mostly helpful to have the same judge presiding over their various matters in the Federal Circuit Court, although the time delay in the parenting proceedings meant that the judge lost touch with the facts and, in Gillian’s view, made a questionable final ruling. This was in contrast to the Magistrates Court where there was a different Magistrate at every mention and facts had to be revisited each time. Gillian questions the value of the ICL in her case; very little weight was given to Kyle’s violence and abuse in the context of determining the children’s best interests. The judge however was focused on ensuring safety at changeover.

    Gillian has spent more than six years post separation accessing the legal system to secure parenting arrangements and her own safety. It has come at great cost to her emotionally and financially. She is however getting on with rebuilding her life. She is distrustful of people, wary of any signs of violence and abuse, and finds it very difficult to contemplate an intimate relationship.

  • Jane and Richard met at university and later married. They had two children together, and finally separated after 25 years. Both are tertiary educated, however Richard assumed the primary earner role early in the relationship and priority was given to his professional advancement. Jane supported Richard’s career pursuits—which involved a number of relocations, here and overseas—and became the primary carer of their children who are in their mid to late teenage years. The children live with Jane and have limited contact with Richard who continues to live and work overseas and returns periodically. There are no Family Court parenting orders, however there are consent orders dealing with the settlement of marital property between Jane and Richard and access to children during school holidays. Jane had completed a Graduate Diploma whilst raising the children, and had been in unrelated paid employment for brief periods when the family was based in Australia. However she had not attained any significant experience or career progression as caring for the children was her main priority. Just prior to separation Jane accepted a full-time job that for the first time utilized her degree. She supports herself and the children from her modest income; and under the terms of the consent orders, Richard is discharged from any responsibility to pay child support. The property settlement entitles Jane to funds from the sale of a house property, which she intends to use to purchase a home for her and the children.

    Marrying so young, Jane had little experience of relationships or what to expect. Richard always earned a high salary and from the outset took charge of their finances and purchases. As a couple they bought a number of real estate properties, which he referred to as his own, despite their being registered in Jane’s name and clearly shared assets. Without the qualification and experience she’d hoped to obtain, Jane could only work in low-paid positions; and, after having children and living as expats overseas, was unable to work at all. Richard belittled Jane for her lack of financial contribution, and regularly monitored her weekly spending against the allowance he had allocated that was often insufficient for essentials. She was required to show Richard receipts for all of her expenditure. Richard could become enraged when he believed Jane had overspent or acted without his approval, and would often throw and break items precious to Jane to show his displeasure with her and to intimidate her. Early in the relationship when Jane freely expressed her opinions with Richard, he threw a coffee cup toward her head which flew out an open window and travelled 5 metres before smashing on the neighbour’s brick wall. On another occasion he ripped up certificates of her achievement in music. If she went out he would call her regularly to check on her movements and who she was with. Over time Jane tried to follow his instructions so as to avoid his angry outbursts; however she found herself becoming increasingly isolated, anxious and depressed, diminished by Richard’s abuse, and lacking in self-esteem. Meanwhile, she was caring for two children, for the most part by herself, and coping with the additional challenges of establishing a home and friendships, and raising a family in various overseas locations. Despite Jane’s ‘anything-for-peace’ approach, Richard repeatedly criticised her mothering and homemaking abilities; and the children would often express concern for how she was feeling after Richard had finished his abusive rants.

    Jane became distressed about how one of the children was coping and behaving and managed to get Richard’s approval to spend money on therapy on the basis that it was about the child. It was during this time that Jane realised that she needed help herself, and began attending therapy sessions in secret, knowing that Richard would be outraged and refuse to pay if he found out.

    Jane describes an emotionally traumatic separation that was prolonged over five years as she struggled to find ways to persuade Richard to address the problems in their relationship together. Jane felt she had to try hard to do what she could to save the marriage, but at the same time was learning to understand and deal with the fact that Richard had controlled her behavior for so many years. She decided that it was best to return to Australia, settle the children into their final years of high school, retrain, get a job and try to rebuild herself while Richard remained in his overseas position. When he visited from time to time, Jane tried to arrange couple counselling, but Richard would either get angry or disengage.

    Eventually Jane felt the marriage was over and she engaged solicitors to take the necessary steps to deal with issues relating to the children and property. In the years that followed Jane spent $100,000 of her own and family funds on legal fees, an outlay that has significantly eroded her financial resources. She reports having competent and supportive advisers, however believes that they were unable to effectively deal with Richard’s evasive, manipulative and dishonest conduct in relation to disclosure of income and assets, preservation of assets, child support, mediation, and settlement of consent orders. She reports that Richard would send numerous emails to her solicitors based on the assumption that her solicitors would read them and then charge her. She feels that it perhaps would have been preferable to take the matter to trial where Richard’s conduct and credibility could have been assessed by a court, but concedes the merits of her legal advice that the financial and emotional cost of this option would have been prohibitive. Richard continued to humiliate Jane through this process by cutting off services and insurance, cancelling the children’s school enrolments, and reneging on agreements. In particular he reneged on a signed Mediation agreement for settlement. Richard also systematically used the Child Support system to continue the emotional and financial abuse. For instance, despite several international flights and maintaining business interests and assets overseas, Richard was able to convince Child Support that he had no income. Richard has also driven onto the property Jane is renting after she asked him not to. She finds him intimidating and at one stage considered applying for a protection order against him. Jane reflects that at no point has Richard ever been held accountable or borne any consequences for his abusive behaviour.

    When the consent orders were finally put before the court for approval, the judge acknowledged they were unjust and inequitable to Jane, but the reality of her situation dictated that she would be unable to afford the cost of having the multiple contested matters adjudicated on by the court. While Jane knows that she did not receive the share of the marital assets that she was entitled to, she feels fortunate that her settlement funds will be sufficient to be financially comfortable provided she continues working and spends prudently. She is finally able to work toward full registration in her chosen career, which she was unable to pursue previously.

  • Susan and Neil were in a relationship for three years and had a child born in the year they separated. Susan is university educated, professionally qualified and has always been in well-remunerated employment apart from during leave following the birth of the child. Neil did not complete high school, however trained in a trade and earns a modest salary. Neil has a history of intermittent drug and alcohol misuse, and when younger attempted suicide on a couple of occasions during periods of depression. After separation, Susan consulted a psychiatrist to deal with the anxiety she experienced as a result of the abusive relationship, and took medication for a time until she felt it was affecting her capacity to function properly; she was also concerned that she may be prejudiced in the Family Court if her Medicare records revealed that she was taking a medication that was indicated for bipolar disorder (but prescribed to Susan for anxiety).

    Susan and Neil casually dated for a brief time some years before living together when Neil was going through a difficult divorce. Neil became resentful and obsessive about Susan dating other men after the brief relationship ended. They eventually got back together and Neil quickly moved in with Susan at a property she owned. While the first six months of their relationship were happy and without incident, in the remaining two and a half years tension and conflict grew between Susan and Neil, there were periods of separation and reconciliation, and Neil’s behaviour became abusive. Susan’s income was considerably higher than Neil’s and, while she did not highlight the point and was happy to make a greater contribution to joint expenses, Neil would accuse Susan of belittling and humiliating him for his limited earning capacity. Increasingly he became frustrated and angry, and would lash out at Susan. Neil is more than a foot taller than Susan; and is athletic and strong. On one occasion, when loading a large and heavy metal crate in the car, he threw it so as to hit Susan who was standing nearby. She was knocked off her feet, her thick-lens glasses cracked and the impact caused a black eye and bruised lip. On another occasion, Neil grabbed Susan around the neck and held her down on the bed.

    When Susan became pregnant, she found intercourse painful and preferred to avoid it. Neil began seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. While Neil was away visiting his parents, Susan discovered videos of Neil’s sexual encounters with multiple other women (as well as herself) on his computer. When Susan confronted Neil on the phone, he was enraged that she’d invaded his privacy. Susan then discovered that Neil was having an affair with one of these women. Neil returned to try to salvage the relationship and Susan allowed him back as she didn’t want to raise the child alone. Soon after, Susan discovered on Neil’s phone that he was contacting a former girlfriend on Facebook. Susan left Neil a week before the baby was born and went to stay with her parents; however they told her she must return and try and make the relationship work. Neil made her apologise and taunted her about having no interest in her welfare.

    For three months following the birth, Neil’s behaviour settled down and they both focussed on adjusting to being new parents though Neil had little to do with the day-to-day care of the infant. Neil came up with a business idea that involved selling internet-based camera systems to away-from-home workers. Susan funded the establishment costs as Neil didn’t have the resources himself, however the enterprise did not succeed and ended in financial loss. Neil set up a remotely-controlled camera system in the home, and monitored Susan’s movements in every room, including when she was showering and breastfeeding. She repeatedly asked him to disable the system, and at one stage feared it had been hacked. She recalls one occasion, as she walked out of the bathroom, the camera moved to follow her.

    Six months after the birth of their child, Neil told Susan that he would marry her only if she agreed to go to a swingers club with him; she refused and told him the relationship was over. Susan left and returned to her parent’s house for a couple of days when Neil’s parents became involved. Eventually he told Susan that he ‘could live with it’ if she did not wish to go to a swingers club and the relationship continued for one more month.

    Neil was known for his outbursts of road rage. He would throw heavy objects out of his van while driving, with reckless disregard for the consequences. He was required to attend a police interview about an incident where he allegedly smashed another car with a crow bar. When Susan told his parents, again he was enraged that she breached his privacy. This came shortly after yet another fight about Neil’s infidelity; it was the tipping point for Susan and she decided to leave Neil for good. Their child was seven months old at the time.

    Susan went home with the intention of retrieving some of her personal possessions. Neil should have been at work but she found him in the backyard shed drinking and playing computer games. Susan packed a bag and gathered her personal documents and, with the baby, went to stay with her parents. Susan never returned to Neil. He stayed on in the property for a time and changed all the locks even though the property belonged to Susan’s family and he had not sought permission to do so.

    Susan engaged a lawyer immediately and put in place contact arrangements. The child lived with Susan, and Neil had contact for certain hours three times each week under Susan’s supervision. Neil would at times run away with the child in the pram, which made Susan feel anxious and concerned about the child’s safety. Susan was also keen to get the joint financial matters settled with Neil. She had contributed significantly by way of income, property and parenting, and proposed a cash payment that she felt reflected Neil’s contribution. Neil, acting for himself, approached her one day (when Susan attended the home they had shared to supervise contact) and made an irrational counter offer seeking far in excess of his share. He also demanded that she sell all her properties, leave her job and live with him at a place of his choosing. Susan described Neil’s behaviour as menacing and intimidating, and she was concerned about what he may do next. In the following days, Neil badgered Susan repeatedly by text about his proposal. When Susan rejected his offer, Neil verbally and offensively abused her and threatened blackmail with sex videos. She told him she would go to the police if he continued; he took no notice, and his texts became more threatening. In time, Neil accepted the cash sum originally offered by Susan.

    Susan kept copies of all of Neil’s texts and applied for a protection order against Neil. She was granted a temporary order; however the magistrate refused to name the child on the order. The police delayed in serving the order on Neil and, as a result, Susan was unable to have him charged with an almost immediate breach. This was the first of numerous encounters with police over an extended period where Susan felt her circumstances were not taken seriously nor responded to appropriately. Once served, Neil made a cross application and obtained a reciprocal temporary order against Susan. The final order hearing was conducted over two days; Susan was represented by a solicitor and barrister, Neil was self represented. Susan found the experience of being cross-examined by Neil harrowing and upsetting, and she became quite emotional in the process. She accepts that the magistrate had a duty to ensure Neil was given full opportunity to put his case. While Neil’s application was dismissed and a final order granted in Susan’s favour, it took some months for the magistrate to hand down the judgment; the matter had apparently been overlooked. Susan was not awarded costs even though the magistrate recognised that Neil’s application had no substance and was a case of ‘tit-for-tat’. The delay resulted in interim Family Court parenting orders being made before the final protection order issued. Contact was ordered to continue three times each week as previously, however Susan would be required to come into contact with Neil at handovers contrary to the conditions of the protection order.

    Following the hearing, Neil actively and regularly flouted the protection order. A neighbour witnessed Neil entering the property which he had once lived in with Susan and where she still had many belongings stored. He was subsequently charged with breaching her Temporary Protection Order. Neil would leave notes and photos for her in the child’s bag after contact visits; they were principally designed to rattle Susan, occasionally under the false guise of concern for the child’s welfare. On one occasion, Susan made an audio recording of Neil urging her to read a letter he’d written her while acknowledging that he wasn’t legally able to. When she refused, he told her things would end badly. On another occasion, Neil left his go-pro camera in the child’s bag with footage of him telling the child that Susan had tried to kill Neil. Susan made multiple breach complaints to the police notifying them that she was fearful Neil would kill her; however she was ignored.

    A significant breach of the protection order occurred at handover one evening. Handover took place at a public venue frequented by families and most of what ensued was captured on CCTV footage and Neil’s own go-pro footage. Neil alleged that Susan’s car wasn’t safe to drive and refused to hand over the child, slapping Susan’s hands away as she reached out for the child. Susan called the police for assistance; they suggested she sign a one-off waiver of the protection order to allow Neil to drive the child to her home, and took the matter no further. Susan was unable to get legal advice at that hour of night, so remained in the car park unable to reverse and leave as Neil was standing behind her car. Neil then sat on the bonnet of the car while Susan was locked inside breastfeeding the child; he filmed her, called out insults and accused her of being unsafe with the child. Susan rang a family member and arranged for them to collect the child; she then tried a different police station. The police arrived, however refused to take a statement claiming it was a Family Court matter. Later, when police viewed the CCTV footage, they said Neil had simply deflected not assaulted her, and his actions didn’t constitute a breach of the order. Susan felt aggrieved by the police treatment of her, and with the assistance of a domestic violence support service, lodged a formal complaint, which was never addressed.

    In preparation for a further interim hearing in the Family Court, a family report was prepared. Susan had obtained the CCTV footage of the incidents already described and past medical records evidencing Neil’s mental instability and suicide attempts. Recommendations were made regarding contact in Susan’s favour. On the day prior to the hearing, handover occurred. Neil had read the report. He approached Susan and told her he would get her. Susan went immediately to the police station to make a breach complaint. They took a statement after initially resisting, but said her claims were unsubstantiated as she had no recording of the interaction. Susan’s lawyer, on the other hand, had cautioned her against using recording devices as the Family Court did not regard the practice favourably. Susan tried to submit this fresh evidence at the hearing, however it was not accepted by the Court and the matter was adjourned for some months. Neil continued to refuse any order which excused Susan from being present at handover stating he did not have the financial means to pay for an independent third party.

    Susan (with representation) applied for a variation of the protection order to secure better protection at handover. Neil, for the first time, was represented. Susan’s barrister was concerned that if the matter proceeded to a hearing, Susan may say something in cross-examination that may prejudice the parenting proceedings. Consequently, Susan accepted an undertaking from Neil that he wouldn’t communicate with her during handover or otherwise except in an emergency. Susan agreed to communicate in writing with Neil via a website specifically designed for separated parents. Neil continues to send abusive text messages and emails to Susan. At another handover occasion, he opened the car door while Susan was driving out of the carpark; she had to stop suddenly while he retrieved a piece of paper from the child’s bag. Again, she reported the incident to the police and requested fingerprinting; they wouldn’t take a statement and told her to come back later, they also told her that fingerprinting would be of no value.

    Susan travelled overseas with her son (with Neil’s consent and the Family Court’s knowledge) to visit her sister. Knowing Susan was overseas with the child and unable to attend the mention, Neil made an application for the protection order to be dismissed. He later withdrew the application.

    Further interim parenting orders issued allowing a transition to overnight contact for one night during the week, and daytime contact on the weekend. Susan made an urgent application to the Family Court for further changes after another incident where Neil, with a female friend, approached Susan in a supermarket and told her he was ‘gonna get her’ while she was holding their child. Neil’s contact time changed to three nights every second weekend, with collection and drop-off at day care. At considerable relief to Susan, handover involving contact with Neil was no longer necessary.

    The final Family Court hearing is pending. Susan is assisting her lawyer in gathering records to evidence Neil’s parenting deficits and mental ill health. Susan is seeking sole parental responsibility and would be prepared to accept 4-5 nights contact each fortnight. Susan is concerned that Neil not having representation will adversely affect the outcome; however her lawyer is confident that his motives and behaviours will be exposed in cross-examination.

    Susan estimates having spent more than $200,000 on legal costs; she has had to sell one of her properties to finance the litigation, and will need to mortgage her other property to fund the final Family Court proceedings. Susan believes that it has been very important for her to be legally advised and represented throughout, though she attends mention dates in the Magistrates Court personally to avoid additional costs. Susan and the child continue to live with her parents for protection and to recover financially. Susan has re-partnered but continues to be fearful of Neil and believes he is capable of killing her. She dreads having to reapply for a protection order on the expiration of the current order given the lack of support she has received from the police. Susan believes the police have failed in their duty to respond to Neil’s multiple breaches, despite Susan’s concerted and consistent efforts to provide comprehensive statements and supporting evidence where possible. Neil’s abusive behaviour and Susan’s need for protection continue three years after separation.