Children

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.

  • Anna and Nathan met one another at high school, however neither completed year 12. During their five-year relationship, they lived together for periods, on and off, and had a child who was aged two when they separated. Anna has experienced physical and mental health problems since early adolescence, which, as an adult, have prevented her from gaining a qualification or employment. She is on a disability pension and, as the primary carer of the child, receives parenting and public housing support. When younger, Anna took party drugs to cope with her anxiety and depression, but feels now that she has grown out of the habit. Nathan’s drug taking and dealing and associated criminal activity have dominated his life for many years, and on one occasion resulted in a serious conviction for which he served a sentence of probation. Anna describes Nathan as extremely aggressive—and more so when taking drugs or alcohol—and possibly having a mental illness, though she believes undiagnosed. The child has been diagnosed with various behavioural disorders, which are now managed with medication and ongoing medical treatment. There are Family Court parenting orders in place granting Anna residence and allowing Nathan weekly contact, however Nathan rarely sees or telephones the child.

    From early on in the relationship, Nathan would regularly (and wrongly) accuse Anna of cheating on him, he would often check on her whereabouts and who she was spending time with, and constantly monitored her money while refusing to make any contribution himself to rent and other joint expenses. On a few occasions when Nathan got drunk and felt that Anna was giving him attitude, he would put his hands around her throat strangling her in front of others. Anna became pregnant when Nathan was on probation, and child protection was alerted to Nathan’s physical and emotional violence towards her. On a visit during her pregnancy, a child protection officer told her the child would be taken away from her if she stayed with Nathan. Anna wasn’t overly concerned because she had good family support around her and, with the help of a local youth service, was attending parenting and ante-natal classes and getting set up at home.

    Nathan’s physical violence did however escalate during and after the pregnancy. Nathan wielded a knife at Anna causing her to barricade herself in a locked room. While the baby slept, he strangled and beat her so badly that she blacked out and, with help from a family member, was taken by ambulance to the hospital and treated for multiple fractures, and facial and scalp wounds. Two months later, he yanked her arm forcefully, resulting in a serious elbow injury and lengthy recovery. Nathan was often drunk or stoned during these violent rampages, and would always flee the scene leaving Anna to fend for herself. On one occasion, Nathan assaulted Anna while they were walking with their child to the local shops. He took off with the child, leaving Anna on the street with severe cuts and bruising and torn clothes. Police were alerted and successfully applied to the court for a two-year protection order on Anna’s behalf, with the child named as a protected party.

    On the expiration of the first order, police obtained a further identical order, which is due to expire in the coming months. Anna has spoken to a local domestic violence support worker who is encouraging her to seek a five-year order. Anna reports feeling both frustrated and terrified because, despite having these orders and being on the police high-alert list, Nathan has repeatedly and flagrantly breached the orders, and continues to do so regularly, by stalking Anna and the child, ringing and letting her know where she has been and with whom, and threatening physical harm and death. Nathan has ready access to guns and knives and, on one occasion when he was facing the possibility of a jail term for another offence, threatened to shoot Anna’s mother and Anna herself if Anna tried to disappear with the child. Anna has returned to police, repeatedly, to make statements attesting to Nathan’s breaches, and at times, has had to appear at the hearing, self-represented (due to no access to Legal Aid), accompanied by a local domestic violence support worker, and intimidated by the prospect of Nathan being in the courtroom. Nathan would frequently seek and obtain adjournments for the breach hearings; and whilst he was often found guilty of breach, he has never received other than a fine as penalty. Following each hearing, Anna expected that the police would contact her to advise the outcome, but she found that she had to constantly ring and ask. She was only ever told about the fines, and can’t say whether convictions were recorded, or whether Nathan has ever been charged with stalking, assault or any other offence related to his domestic and family violence towards her and the child.

    Anna believes that Nathan continues to be involved with criminal activities and that he is known to police. Although Nathan doesn’t physically approach Anna, he continues to monitor her and the child through his family and friends. Anna feels constantly unsafe and under threat, and won’t venture out of the house without people who can protect her and the child. Anna regularly changes her appearance and telephone number, and has recently changed the locks on her house. The police have cautioned her to lock herself in. Still young, Anna is desperate to establish a normal and happy life; however she feels trapped and damaged by Nathan’s ongoing domestic and family violence, and by what she perceives to be the failure of the justice system to recognise the seriousness of Nathan’s crimes and to punish him appropriately, and to protect her and the child adequately.

    Nathan has only ever paid a negligible amount of child support; ultimately, his violence resulted in Anna having to obtain an exemption from claiming. Despite having contact orders, Nathan has always flouted the conditions, or not bothered to see or speak with the child at all. Anna would like to have the orders varied to disallow contact on the basis of Nathan’s serious and ongoing violence, however she expects to be criticised by the court for seeking to prevent a relationship between Nathan and the child; and yet has had the experience of being told by child protection that if she remains with Nathan, the child will be removed from her.

    Having tried and failed, time and again, over five years to secure proper protection from Nathan, at this stage, Anna can’t see what else she can do to improve her situation. She doesn’t have the financial resources to engage a private lawyer, and her health is so compromised that her prospects of future employment are limited. She is also very concerned about the daily and long-term impacts of the violence and fear on the child.

  • Bianca and Tom were in a relationship for 13 years and have three children who were between pre and primary school age at separation. Both Bianca and Tom are tertiary educated with professional qualifications. Apart from when the children were infants, Bianca worked in professional, well-remunerated employment and was the sole income earner for most of the relationship. Tom had worked sporadically early in the relationship but stopped working soon after the birth of their first child and hasn’t worked since.

    Bianca met Tom through a mutual friend when she was in her late teens. It was her first intimate relationship. Tom had been in a previous relationship where his partner alleged domestic violence. Bianca says she has always been a high energy, driven sort of person who likes to get things done. Tom on the other hand lacks motivation and found employment difficult to maintain despite being highly intelligent. Bianca tended to ‘mother’ Tom from early in the relationship and took on all of the household duties while also working full-time, without being conscious of or concerned by the imbalance. This however emerged as a problem after the birth of their first child when Bianca’s attentions necessarily turned to the baby, and she began asking Tom to help around the house. He mostly resisted, and when Bianca insisted, he did so begrudgingly. Even when Bianca was recovering from C-section births, Tom would refuse to bring the baby to her for feeding during the night, claiming there was no point in both of them being tired.

    Over time, Bianca and Tom argued often about the division of labour. As the demands of children and work grew, Bianca felt that Tom’s failure to contribute in any useful way was unreasonable and intolerable. Tom claimed Bianca was constantly nagging him and trying to control him, and he would frequently become angry and verbally abusive towards her. She had experienced trauma as a child and suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years as a result. Before and after the birth of their third child, Bianca began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks reminiscent of her earlier years. When hospitalised, she felt a sense of safety and calm that she realised was absent from her home life. Tom resented her time in hospital; he told her she needed to get over it, and that it was too much for him to have to look after the house and children while she was away receiving treatment.

    After Bianca and Tom built their home on a small rural block, Tom developed an obsession with guns. He purchased five guns and went hunting most weekends. Tom’s firearms licence required him to secure the guns in a safe in the house; Bianca had to constantly ensure that he complied with these requirements as he was lax. Tom regularly spoke about guns and shooting in conversation, he read books about serial killers and snipers, he would make home-made guns in his shed, and he even explained to Bianca on one occasion the steps involved in administering lethal poison without leaving a trace. As their relationship deteriorated, Bianca observed veiled threats in these behaviours and found them intimidating and troubling. During the relationship, Tom shot and killed Bianca’s dog and pony for no valid reason. He also deliberately released her hand-raised cockatiel into the wild.

    Bianca describes three physically violent incidents that occurred in the course of an otherwise increasingly dysfunctional relationship. As the situation worsened, Bianca felt she was constantly ‘walking on eggshells’ around Tom, trying to placate him and take the pressure off him so as to avoid any escalation of his anger, but his behaviour continued.

    The first incident was when Bianca and Tom’s first child was aged two. They had been arguing and Tom picked Bianca up under her arms and threw her across the room and into a door frame, causing bruising to the back of her head. Tom is more than a foot taller than Bianca, thick set, muscular and immensely strong. Bianca was in shock and terrified; she retreated to the other end of the house unable to comprehend what had happened. In the days following she sought help from a counsellor (who she continued to see for many years) and told Tom that it must never happen again.

    The second incident was some years later, by which stage they had three young children. Bianca had arrived home late after a long and demanding day at work. Tom hadn’t fed the children or made any attempt to prepare them for bed; the house was in chaos and Tom was playing violent computer games. Bianca was angry and frustrated with Tom’s selfishness and lack of effort. Tom called her a ‘fat cunt’ (knowing that this was particularly hurtful to Bianca who had suffered an eating disorder) and pushed her into the wall. In front of the children, he threatened to shoot himself in the head, and then walked out to the car parked in the yard. He was due to go hunting the next morning and he normally locked his guns in the car the night before. Bianca feared that he was going to retrieve a gun from the car and carry out his threat of suicide, so she rang the ambulance. Multiple ambulance and police officers arrived. Tom was taken to the hospital for review and then spent a couple of nights at his mother’s house. On this occasion, Bianca did not tell police about the violence and abuse in the relationship; she didn’t want to get Tom into trouble or make him angrier and therefore more abusive. She felt that if she decided to leave, she would need a plan to get away quickly to somewhere safe.

    After the second incident, Bianca rang a domestic violence support service for some advice about how she might safely leave the relationship. Bianca believed they were more interested in reporting the incident to child safety than giving her any support as the victim of abuse. She felt insulted that a judgement had been made about her ability to protect her children and that she may be exposing them to harm by staying with a suicidal partner.

    Bianca decided she needed to address the relationship problems with Tom before making any other decisions about leaving. She wrote him a letter and let him know that she wouldn’t tolerate verbal or physical abuse and that they needed marriage counselling. Tom agreed and for a time, things improved between them. Soon enough though, Bianca reverted to taking on most of the household and parenting responsibilities and continuing to work full-time so as to avoid any instance where Tom may become angry and abusive. Tom spent most of his days playing computer games even when their youngest child was home from pre-school. The relationship deteriorated further: the arguments continued, and Bianca discovered that, at two separate times, Tom had placed a key logger on her computer in order to log her internet activity. When confronted, Tom claimed that he was trying to keep Bianca safe, a story she rejected. She told him she had nothing to hide, he could have all her passwords, but it was not acceptable for him to secretly monitor her.

    One night, after a particularly heated argument, the third incident occurred. Tom started drinking scotch and went on to drink most of the bottle. He rarely drank alcohol; this was out of character. As Tom became more intoxicated, he became emotional about his past failed relationships. He said he should just die, and could understand how murder-suicides happen. He also threatened to wake the children up and ask them which parent they loved most. Bianca was very concerned by this talk, but felt it was likely to be caused by the alcohol, so suggested to Tom that he go to bed. She then tried to get up from the couch and Tom grabbed her tightly by the wrists and held her in place for three hours, both by the wrists and through the weight of his body on hers. Meanwhile, he used Bianca’s hands to hit himself hard and repeatedly in the face, saying ‘I’d rather you punch me than leave me’. Bianca’s hands turned blue, and despite her pleading, Tom would not release his grip, saying he couldn’t let her go because she would escape and the police would take his guns away. Later, Bianca pleaded with him not to kill her, at which point he released his hands and placed them around her throat, squeezing tightly and saying ‘you stupid woman, of course I’m not going to kill you; the reason I haven’t already is that I don’t want to’. Terrified for her life, Bianca decided to try and settle Tom down: telling him it was all a misunderstanding, that they could work it out in the morning after some sleep. Tom grabbed her by the wrists again and dragged her down the hall and into bed with him where he continued holding her. Bianca waited for him to fall asleep, got her phone out of her back pocket, switched it to silent mode, and texted two friends she knew would respond at that hour of night. They called the police and Bianca fled to the neighbour’s house and waited. She felt she had no other choice, but was also extremely worried that Tom would wake up and a hostage situation may arise given that the children were still asleep in the house.

    The police arrived promptly; they removed Tom and took him to the watch house and located the guns. The police initiated a protection order application on Bianca’s behalf and the matter was dealt with the following day. Bianca was traumatised and exhausted and unable to properly process what was going on. The magistrate told Tom he didn’t have to agree to an order naming the children as it would have family law implications for him. The police prosecutor asked Bianca if she would agree to a one-year order without admissions where the children weren’t named. She wanted the matter over and felt sorry for Tom who was crying, so she agreed. Bianca later regretted this decision as the ‘no admissions’ condition meant that she had no evidence of domestic and family violence that she could use to substantiate her claims in the subsequent parenting proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court. She was however satisfied that it was appropriate not to have the children named on the protection order as she was and remains committed to the children having a relationship with their father. Bianca was informed by police shortly after Tom’s guns were confiscated that they had been released to Tom’s brother (with Tom’s consent), who holds a valid gun license. In releasing Tom’s guns to his brother, Bianca is concerned that he now has ready access to them.

    On the evening of the third incident the police had asked Bianca if she wanted to have Tom charged with deprivation of liberty. She declined, and police did not take any steps to obtain evidence of the offence, for example photos of bruising on Bianca’s wrists caused by Tom’s grip. Some months later however, after time with her counsellor, Bianca made a complaint and gave a statement. Tom was represented, and on advice on the morning of the trial, accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to common assault in lieu of deprivation of liberty. No conviction was recorded and Tom was ordered to observe a six month good behaviour bond and pay a $500 fine. For Bianca, this was some acknowledgement of Tom’s violence towards her, though somewhat mitigated; and she avoided the ordeal of cross-examination, which she had endured from Tom personally only weeks earlier at the hearing for the variation of the police-initiated protection order.

    Bianca applied prior to its expiration to vary the police-initiated protection order by extending it for another year. The magistrate refused to grant a temporary order to bridge the gap between lodgement and expiry, insisting that the matter be heard. Tom made a cross application alleging abuse by Bianca in the form of name calling. Both applications were heard together. Bianca prepared all of her own affidavit material and engaged a barrister for the hearing. Bianca felt highly distressed and vulnerable in the courtroom and PTSD evidence was tendered to support a claim for protected witness status. The magistrate rejected the submission concluding that Bianca was articulate and intellectually well-equipped and did not require protection during the proceedings. As a result, Tom, self-represented in this matter, was permitted to cross examine Bianca for three hours. Tom taunted and demeaned her with his questions—Bianca felt it was another version of the abuse she had long-experienced—and the magistrate gave him considerable leeway. Bianca felt that the magistrate was demonstrating the need for procedural fairness, but equally that her evidence had been taken seriously. The Magistrate granted Bianca the one-year extension and dismissed Tom’s application.

    While the criminal and protection order matters were being dealt with, Bianca sought to address parenting and property issues.

    A property settlement was reached with Tom fairly quickly, though Bianca queries its fairness. They jointly owned an unencumbered house worth $300,000. Bianca was the sole income earner and principal homemaker throughout the relationship. Tom made negligible homemaker contributions and earned no income. Bianca had accumulated $160,000 in super. Tom received the unencumbered house property, and Bianca received $85,000 in cash (paid by Tom’s mother) and some furniture of little value.

    The parenting proceedings were more prolonged and complex, requiring an interim and final hearing in the Federal Circuit Court. Essentially, Bianca sought to relocate to an area where she felt safer while maintaining her job position and yet still continuing the arrangements with Tom for some weekend contact. Relocation necessarily involved the children changing schools, and this became a central issue of contention. At the interim hearing, Bianca was ordered to resume living with the children in a certain area and to return them to the local primary school. The interim order was very difficult for Bianca because it meant that she had to live in a small, rural town close to Tom and his family; she avoided going to shops or community spaces for fear of coming into contact with them. She needed medication to cope with her heightened anxiety. These circumstances continued for more than a year pending the final hearing and orders. After considerable expense and time, the final orders endorsed Bianca’s initial application. She and the children, and her new partner and his two children, now live in the area she originally proposed, and Tom’s contact arrangements continue unchanged.

    Bianca and her new partner have bought a house, and they are settling in well together with their children as a combined family, while contact arrangements with Tom are mostly straightforward and without incident. Tom’s moods around contact times remain unpredictable, and Bianca has developed ways of dealing with his moods so that her safety isn’t compromised.

    For the past five years post separation, Tom commenced a campaign of complaints to QPS and Child Safety regarding allegations of risk to the children in Bianca’s care. While the process of investigation of Tom’s complaints by these systems was humiliating and stressful for Bianca, both QPS and Child Safety have deemed Tom’s complaints unsubstantiated on each occasion. Bianca has experienced numerous police welfare checks at her home, and felt violated by the unnecessary intrusion of these systems into her private life once again. Recently Tom has been encouraging the children to use their smart phones to covertly record their mother in her home and to ‘airdrop’ these recordings to him. Tom continues to denigrate Bianca and her partner in the children’s presence. Bianca is concerned about the emotional harm caused to the children through their continued involvement by Tom and worries about the long-term psychological impact of Tom’s sustained manipulation of the children upon them. It is difficult for Bianca to effectively parent under these circumstances. Tom has also deliberately contravened the Family Court Orders in place, retaining the children longer than permitted and picking them up from school on days when they are not in his care. Bianca believes that these actions are designed to continue to impress upon her that he is “in charge” and that she remains at the mercy of his unpredictable moods and behaviours. Bianca continues to feel helpless and traumatised but has little faith in the systems set up to support survivors of DFV in dealing with these more insidious and subtle manifestations of coercive control – especially technology facilitated abuse and the involvement of the children.

    Bianca also experiences continuing stress in relation to the level of debt she has had to incur to meet legal expenses associated with the protection order, parenting and property matters. She estimates this at more than $100,000. Bianca has borrowed from family and on credit facilities, and the repayments are unmanageable. While Bianca earns an annual salary of around $90,000, debt costs are disproportionate to normal living expenses and the costs associated with bringing up children. Tom pays no child support. Bianca has been unable throughout all these matters to obtain legal aid due to her income level. She has however been able to obtain Victim Assist for some relocation costs and the installation of a home security system.

    Bianca has spent considerable time, personal effort, resources, and compromised health on securing her own safety, protecting the wellbeing of her children, and ensuring the children’s relationship with their father, while coping personally with long-term domestic and family violence. She feels the police have been attentive, supportive and respectful in all their dealings with her. She will always value the support given by a particular female police officer at any hour of the day and night. Bianca also respects the court system and the judicial officers making the decisions, although she found those processes traumatic. She is proud of the time and effort she spent in preparing affidavit material for these proceedings, and believes it helped to achieve the best outcome for her children and herself.

  • 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.

  • Francis and Mark were together for 23 years. Francis has been significantly hearing impaired since birth and wears hearing aids. She grew up in a loving but strict family environment, and met Mark when she was still a teenager, having had little experience with intimate relationships or independent living. They both completed year 10. Francis has limited TAFE qualifications and has worked periodically throughout the relationship when her child rearing responsibilities permitted; Mark ran his own one-man business for a time. For a number of years their income was derived predominantly from social security benefits. Mark has a history of misuse of alcohol and drugs, however Francis observed that he had developed ways of minimising its influence. The couple has three children at separation.

    Mark began controlling and demeaning Francis early in the relationship. He became verbally abusive and aggressive when she was planning to go out with friends, he called her a “slut”, and would punch the walls or doors or damage household goods. Francis says she “would pay for [her outings] for a long, long time after”. While Francis had few friends and had moved away from her home city and family to be with Mark, over time she decided a night out wasn’t worth the humiliation and fear. And yet these things came to characterise her experience of the relationship over many years and were made worse by a pervading feeling of insecurity due to her poor hearing. She describes crying every day, despairing at her situation.

    Francis had thought often about leaving the relationship, and would at times tell Mark that she wanted it to end, however Mark would express remorse for his behaviour and plead with her to stay. Francis says her main reason for continuing in the relationship was a growing fear of what Mark may do if she were to take steps to get away. It was also the reason Francis denied the occurrence of domestic and family violence to family, friends and police for so long. Mark became more violent towards Francis once they began having children. His abuse would always build from a verbal rage to wanton household property damage that would sometimes result in physical injury to Francis. This was the repeating pattern, and for Francis the occasions were too numerous to fully recount. There were however some incidents that were so concerning to neighbours that they called the police, but Francis felt too frightened to disclose the details of the violence knowing that Mark was nearby and likely to retaliate. Instead, she made up an account to shield the reality of the violence. Francis recalls that one night she locked herself and the children in the bathroom, and Mark punched the door in and smeared blood across the wall, in a rage about having to cook dinner.

    Francis told police Mark had thrown a saucepan and didn’t show them the blood or damage to the bathroom; she had tried to ring Mark’s parents but couldn’t go ahead with the call because she was worried her voice may be too loud and Mark would hear her. Police offered Francis little or no opportunity to make a proper statement and blamed her for fighting with Mark in front of the children.

    On another occasion, when the couple was out with the children, Mark and his friends tried to pressure Francis into taking drugs, which she had never done or been prone to. Mark began calling her names, and on the way home he smashed the car interior while Francis drove. Once home, Mark damaged the guard at the front of the car and punched the laundry wall so violently he broke his hand. The following day Francis told him she would leave, but he pleaded with her not to and promised a special holiday, which never happened.

    Not long after, Mark was arrested on charges unrelated to violence at home, of which he was later convicted. Although he avoided imprisonment, Francis believes, to some extent this was due to a favourable reference she felt she was pressured by Mark and his lawyer to provide to the court. Due to the nature of the charges Francis changed to part-time work so she could be with the children outside school and daycare hours, and continued to put up with Mark’s violence and abuse. Later, Mark was charged with another serious offence. Pending his trial, a child protection order issued requiring that Mark move out of the family home and that he have no contact with the children for several months. Mark reacted angrily to these conditions, repeatedly demanding to see the children and continuing the violence.

    Following another violent incident that involved Mark hitting one of the children, Francis told Mark to leave the holiday house the family were renting and get counselling. Initially, Mark complied. Four months later, after he was acquitted, he returned to the family home at midnight without Francis’s consent, attacked Francis, and tried to throw her off the upper storey of the house when their young son physically intervened. Francis threatened to call the police but Mark pursued her around the house while the youngest child became more and more distressed. By this stage, Francis could see that the two older children were profoundly affected by their long exposure to the violence. Francis also discovered that Mark had access to a gun, and he began making threats to shoot her and a police officer.

    After confiding in a friend and her local doctor, Francis decided to apply for a protection order, and for Legal Aid to assist with the application. Appearing to give little weight to the long history of violence and abuse, the magistrate declined to include an exclusion order. However, after further submissions by her solicitor, Francis did manage to secure a temporary order with the minimum condition that Mark be of good behavior and not commit domestic and family violence. Francis believed this was of little or no protection to her and the children, and was terrified that service of the order would precipitate further violence by Mark.

    Following advice from police, and with the assistance of a local service, Francis and the children were immediately resettled at a shelter. Multiple adjournments (at Mark’s request) occurred before Francis obtained a two-year final protection order. Mark’s ongoing harassment of her parents about access to the children and car resulted in Francis having to reapply for Legal Aid to seek a variation of the order to include her parents as protected parties. This process took months longer because Mark evaded service.

    The current protection order prohibits Mark from having contact with the children until a Family Court order is in place stipulating the terms of any contact. At this stage, the children have told Francis they don’t want to see their father. Francis has begun talking with her Legal Aid solicitor about a Family Court application. Francis acknowledges that she did not disclose the domestic and family violence to police on a number of occasions, but feels her fears and perceptions of future risk of harm were justified. She believes police did not provide her with a safe and receptive opportunity to give her account of the violence. Francis also observed the difference in attitude of the magistrate who failed to recognise the nature of Mark’s violence, and the magistrate who demonstrated an understanding of her circumstances and its impacts.

  • 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.

  • Hilary and Bruce were in a relationship for 17 years; they married and had three children who were primary and pre-school age, and two years of age on separation. Hilary has an adult child from a previous relationship who was pre-school age when Hilary and Bruce got together and lived with them until late teens. Hilary is tertiary qualified and has worked in a specialist professional role throughout the relationship other than during periods of maternity leave. Bruce has a trade qualification and held a well-remunerated position with a company for many years before resigning and starting his own business.

    Hilary’s early observation of Bruce was that he was a perfectionist regarding how work was done on their house and cars, he wanted to make the decisions about these matters and got extremely stressed when things didn’t go as planned, he was eager to fix other people’s problems and enjoyed their praise and gratitude. Hilary felt she understood and accommodated these traits in Bruce, along with his need for his own space and to spend regular time away with friends. When they met, both Hilary and Bruce had their own homes. In time, the properties were sold and together they bought a house on a big block with a work shed for Bruce. As a result, they were in a comfortable financial position with a small mortgage, good incomes pooled in a joint account, and relatively low outgoings.

    Bruce’s behaviour became concerning to Hilary when she discovered she was pregnant with their first child. Bruce was angered by the news: Hilary had conceived quickly, however Bruce had wanted it to be later, and expected to be able to control the timing. He even contacted Hilary’s family members to express his displeasure. Witnessed by Hilary’s child who was excited and happy about the news, Bruce came into the bedroom where Hilary was sitting on the bed, wielded two knives and threatened to hurt himself, tipped Hilary onto the floor by lifting the mattress, and punched his fist into the wall. Hilary’s child was distressed and screaming and calling out to her mother that she was going to ring the police. Hilary tried to reassure the child that she would sort it out and everything would be okay. Hilary believes that this incident and many others since have been a source of trauma for the child into adulthood.

    Bruce’s behaviour settled down once he got used to the idea of having a child. Hilary says he was an attentive and doting father to the first child, especially when very young and Hilary returned to part-time work at Bruce’s insistence. Hilary felt they had no financial pressure for her to resume working so soon, and had been looking forward to the break and spending quality time with the baby and her older child. Bruce however told Hilary that if she didn’t work, he wouldn’t either, and he would leave her.

    When Hilary was on maternity leave following the birth of their third child, Bruce was forced to resign from his long-held position due to unresolvable clashes with work colleagues. Hilary says he became depressed and took casual jobs he didn’t enjoy. He then announced to Hilary that he was going to start his own business. Their comfortable financial position had suddenly deteriorated and Hilary became stressed about earning only a part-time wage and having to find additional money to fund the business setup.

    Bruce was disappointed that their second child was a girl and appeared upset and angry on the few occasions he visited the hospital. On the day Hilary was discharged from hospital, he insisted that Hilary host lunch with friends at home. Hilary was exhausted, and refused. Bruce stormed out of the house and retreated to the shed. Bruce’s childish, tantrum-like behaviour escalated over time to physical violence towards Hilary. At the close of a demanding year in her job, Hilary finished work one evening hoping to get some help from Bruce around the house and with the children. Instead, he went to bed and let the children run amok. Hilary questioned him on his lack of support, and he tussled with her and kicked her hard, resulting in pain and extensive bruising to her arms and hip. The day care mother who looked after the younger children noticed the bruising and tried to counsel Hilary to see someone, however Hilary felt she wasn’t ready to get help, or to even recognise the reality of Bruce’s violence. On a subsequent occasion, Hilary tried to discuss with Bruce her concerns about the amount of equipment and vehicles that was accumulating in their yard. He reacted angrily and struck her on the hip with an extension cord while she was holding their youngest child.

    At this stage, Hilary realised there was something seriously wrong in the relationship and let her family know. One family member identified Bruce’s behaviour as domestic and family violence and urged her to take decisive action. Hilary however couldn’t afford to leave the home and rent elsewhere, and she knew that Bruce would dig his heels in. Hilary moved into a family member’s house with the children temporarily to seek safety and to organise counselling. She tried repeatedly to get an appointment but was unable to. Eventually she found help; her focus then was to try and understand what had gone wrong in the relationship and whether it was retrievable. She and the children then moved back into the family home and Bruce agreed to attend joint counselling. On a rare occasion when Bruce was open to discussing the relationship, when asked by Hilary why he was violent towards her, he told her that it was to discipline her. After three counselling sessions Bruce refused to continue, saying there was no point. Hilary continued, knowing that the relationship was over, but needing guidance with the separation process.

    By now Bruce was no longer contributing to the joint account. He agreed to pay only the house utility bills. The mortgage repayments, direct debits and children expenses were all paid from Hilary’s modest wage. Hilary was forced to ask Bruce for grocery money, which he gave out in meagre amounts after much complaint and verbal abuse, further humiliating Hilary each time. Hilary was aware that Bruce was making money from the business having seen him receive considerable amounts of cash from the sale of stock. Bruce told Hilary not to expect any more money from him, and that she needed to work more.

    One evening, while they were still living together, Hilary again expressed her frustration to Bruce at his failure to help with the children. An argument ensued and Bruce punched his fist through the door. Bruce then rang the police alleging that Hilary had verbally abused him. The police arrived at the house and interviewed them separately. Hilary had not planned to get the police involved as she felt ashamed by what was going on and didn’t want Bruce in any trouble, but after some probing by the police, Hilary detailed the violence and abuse she had been experiencing. They urged Hilary to apply for a protection order, and to seek a condition preventing Bruce from entering the property. Hilary obtained a temporary protection order, which only required Bruce to be of good behaviour towards her and the children. Hilary says she wanted Bruce off the property but knew that if he weren’t allowed access to the shed, his behaviour would only worsen. The Magistrate commented that these matters could be dealt with at the final hearing when Bruce had an opportunity to put his case. When the temporary protection order was served on Bruce, he became extremely angry and verbally abusive towards Hilary, and told her she was mentally ill.

    Due to financial constraints, Hilary attempted to put in place separation-under-the-one-roof arrangements. She notified Centrelink, relocated Bruce’s belongings to a spare room in the house, and told him she would no longer be cooking, washing or providing other benefits to him. Again, he reacted angrily. On a number of occasions he rang the police complaining that the dinner leftovers had been fed to the dog. Hilary could tell that the police believed Bruce’s complaints were exaggerated, yet she always felt they were supportive of her own situation.

    Just prior to the final hearing of the protection order application, Hilary was served with Bruce’s cross order application. The matter was adjourned to allow Hilary the opportunity to seek legal advice and representation. Hilary returned to the family home that day to find what she describes as a ‘romantic note’ from Bruce, which she interpreted as disingenuous and, once again, temporarily relocated with the children to a family member’s house. Bruce resumed living at the family home, and verbally abused Hilary’s adult child causing Hilary to alert police. Hilary and the children returned to the home, the family still governed by the temporary protection order requiring Bruce to be of good behaviour towards them. One of the children developed a fever and became quite unwell, and Bruce refused to help, choosing instead to watch television and send text messages on his phone. Hilary took the television remote control and phone away from Bruce hoping that this would prompt a better response; it didn’t, and the following morning when Hilary was preparing to leave for work and drop the children off to day care and school she discovered that Bruce had taken her car keys. Hilary tried to look for the keys; Bruce became angry and told her to get out of his room, then grabbed and pushed her forcefully into a chair while the children were present and becoming increasingly distressed. Hilary told Bruce to stop because he was hurting her. He then rang the police and waited at the front of the property for their arrival. Hilary also called the police to report a breach of the temporary protection order. It took some hours for the police to arrive, by which time Bruce had left and Hilary gave her statement regarding the breach. Bruce was charged with the breach, and the matter was heard, but Hilary hasn’t ever been advised of the outcome.

    At the final hearing of the protection order application (which included Bruce’s cross application), Hilary sought a variation to include an ouster order as she could no longer tolerate Bruce being on the property. Both Hilary and Bruce had legal representation. Hilary’s lawyer told her beforehand that the particular Magistrate listed to hear the matter would require that Bruce be given access to the shed, so there was no point in pushing for an ouster order. Hilary reported that the Magistrate was irritated by having to deal with the matter, telling them both that while separation can be difficult they needed to sort the issues out like adults. Bruce’s cross application was dismissed; and based on the Magistrate’s comments in the court room, Hilary believed that Bruce was granted access to the shed between certain hours on certain days, however when the paper order issued there was no such specification.

    Consequently, Bruce continued to come and go from the property as he pleased, including into the house. Hilary knew the latter behaviour was a breach of the order but felt uncomfortable about bothering the police with repeated breach complaints. When Hilary applied for a renewal of the order, she requested a variation denying Bruce access to the house. She felt admonished by the Magistrate for not reporting the breaches, and for being so petty as to not allow Bruce to use the toilet in the house. Bruce made another cross application against Hilary, and at the same time applied for the matter to be heard at a different courthouse, claiming a potential conflict of interest as a result of Hilary’s family connections. The matters were adjourned and Hilary and Bruce appeared for a mention before a different Magistrate who Hilary felt acted fairly and reasonably, in contrast to her previous experiences. The Magistrate expressed the view that Hilary and the children should stay in the house and made a further temporary order against Bruce in accordance with Hilary’s application; he also made a temporary order against Hilary requiring that she be of good behaviour towards Bruce. The final hearing of both applications is pending.

    When Hilary is at home with the children she tries to stay indoors and keep them distracted and settled, however when Bruce sees her, he often verbally abuses her. She has changed the locks on the house. Hilary feels intimidated by Bruce’s presence on the property, and her greatest concern is that he will attempt to take the children away so as to reassert his control over her. There are currently no parenting orders in place, though they have an informal arrangement where Bruce cares for the children one day each weekend. Hilary had been loath to involve the Family Court in matters relating to the children as she feared the process would be damaging to them, however she believes now that securing orders would be in their best interests. She is also aware of the need to make an application for property orders to clarify her financial situation. Based on Bruce’s business returns, a child support assessment has issued requiring Bruce to pay an annual total of $500 for the three children. Hilary otherwise wholly supports the children from her wage.

  • 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.

  • Julia and Adam were in a relationship for three years, during which time they had a child who was just under 12 months old at separation. They both completed secondary education and apprenticeships in different fields. Julia was employed until the child was born and is now the primary carer and in receipt of a Centrelink sole parent pension. Julia and the child live with Julia’s mother. Adam is employed and required to travel often as part of his work. They have an informal arrangement where Adam has supervised contact in a public location with the child (and Julia present) for a couple of hours one day a week, or as his work permits; Julia has been happy to accommodate his changing schedule. However when Adam threatened to apply for residence of the child, Julia began investigating Family Law orders. Adam is a frequent user of cannabis, and suffers from memory loss, depression and mood disorders as a result of a brain injury he received several years ago in a car accident. While Julia doesn’t believe Adam would do anything intentionally to harm the child, she has observed that his attention span is limited, he forgets to watch the child, he smokes in the child’s presence and leaves dangerous items within reach. Julia is also concerned about the unhealthy influence of Adam’s family. Julia is consulting her doctor about the anxiety she is experiencing from her abusive relationship with Adam.

    Since Adam’s brain injury, his mother has held power of attorney over all of his affairs and otherwise dominated his recovery, rehabilitation and decision making. Julia believes that this loss of control over his life led Adam to assert control over Julia. She was also made to feel responsible for Adam’s emotional care, even though she felt that the brain injury was used as a ready excuse for Adam’s abusive and dysfunctional behaviour. He objected to her working in a male-dominated industry, she wasn’t allowed to continue dancing, and restricted her from spending time with her family and friends. He threatened to turn up at Julia’s workplace and make a scene so she would lose her job. During her pregnancy, they moved into and renovated a house Adam had inherited from his deceased father. Adam would dictate who could visit and when. At least every second week, and increasingly so through the pregnancy and after the child was born, Adam would rage out of control, and throw Julia’s belongings out the front of the house and tell her to leave. By this stage, Julia had discovered that Adam also had a serious drug problem, and became very concerned about the potential effects on a newborn. Once Julia stopped work to have the baby, Adam would regularly tell her that he was the only one working, and she needed to shut up and do as she was told. Julia would respond by saying that she was entitled to her own opinion regardless of whether agreed, but realised that there were times that this would produce an explosive reaction in Adam involving his screaming in her face and standing on her feet so she was unable to move. Adam gave Julia money only to buy groceries and nappies, and refused to pay for new clothes for Julia who had lost a considerable amount of weight due to stress. They had a joint account, but Adam would withdraw any available money denying Julia access to funds; he would mostly spend the money on cannabis. Julia’s mother would often pay for items Julia and the child needed. Adam also insisted that Julia not take contraception as he wanted another child; Julia was forced to comply, but did not want to subject another child to Adam’s violence.

    The control exercised by Adam’s mother extended to their relationship. They were unable to pay bills without her approval and, soon after the birth, Julia was forced to put the baby on formula milk so Adam’s mother could have the baby for overnight stays. Adam first hit Julia when she was holding their six-week-old baby. Yelling, dragging Julia through the house and throwing her out the front of the house became the norm in the relationship. Julia would regularly have bruising that she tried to conceal from friends, or she would simply not go out to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain her circumstances and justify staying with Adam so that the child had the care of both parents. Julia believes Adam was oblivious to the consequences to her and the baby; he would become so blind with anger that there were no boundaries to his violence. Adam’s mother often witnessed Adam’s violence and made no attempt to stop him. Julia regularly felt her own life was in danger, however always left the house to stay with her own mother if she believed the child was at risk. Julia has noticed that the child is now fearful around men, and cries at the sound of a deep voice.

    Julia attempted to leave Adam on a number of occasions, however Adam threatened that the court would punish her for taking the child away from him. Julia’s greatest fear is losing the child. As he’d done previously, when Julia indicated that she would like to return to work, Adam threatened to sabotage her chances. While Adam didn’t harm Julia’s two cats, he did threaten not to allow her to take them if she left. Julia felt she could no longer deal with Adam’s manipulation so, for her own preservation, acquiesced to his behaviour and didn’t bother pursuing any of her own interests. Julia’s mother was concerned for her wellbeing and tried to talk to Adam, which resulted in a terrifying road rage incident. Adam repeatedly tried to exclude Julia’s mother from their lives.

    On one occasion following Adam’s violence, Julia rang the police from her mother’s house. She was very reluctant to send the police to interview Adam as he had always told her that if she involved the police, he would say that she was the perpetrator, and would make sure she lost care of the child. Julia reports that the police were reasonably supportive; they gave her information about available counselling, and suggested she move in with her mum and keep away from Adam. They did not however encourage her to seek a protection order as they indicated that it may jeopardise her relationship with the child. At the time, Julia was confused by this approach and, in hindsight is dismayed, as she believes that a protection order would likely have prevented more violence and suffering.

    Julia did leave the relationship and took the child to live with her mother. While Adam’s physical violence stopped, his abuse continued in the form of threats in text and voice messages including that he would send people to get her, that he would take the child, and that she deserved to be put in the gutter and kicked in the back of the head. Julia found these threats particularly frightening as she was often at home alone at night with the child while her mother worked night shifts. Again, she contacted police with the detail of Adam’s behaviour and they urged her to attend the station and have a protection order taken out. When she arrived, with the text and voice messages on her phone, she was told Adam’s threats weren’t sufficient to justify an order or to charge him with any offence such as stalking, and she would have to make an application for a protection order on her own behalf at the court. Julia felt embarrassed and distressed when she left the station, believing they thought she was simply trying to get attention. Julia then rang a police information line as she needed advice on the application process, and remarkably they told her to try another police station. When she did this, the police were more interested in Adam’s involvement with illicit drugs than the immediate threat of Adam’s violence and referred her to the court to obtain a protection order.

    Julia downloaded the relevant forms and sought assistance from the court’s domestic violence support service. She appeared before a magistrate and obtained a temporary protection order against Adam. Julia felt that the magistrate had read her file carefully, took her circumstances seriously, and reassured her that she was doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was explained to Julia that she would be notified of a return date once Adam had been served; she was also aware that service may be delayed given Adam’s frequent absences for work.

    Julia is also preparing a Family Court consent order application proposing that she have residence of the child and Adam have contact on similar terms to the current informal arrangements.

    Adam has Julia’s mobile number so he can make contact in relation to arrangements for the child; however he is not aware of where Julia and the child live. Adam’s abusive behaviour continues in texts and phone calls when he unreasonably demands to see the child at short notice and Julia doesn’t comply. His anger escalates quickly, his language is profane and threats of violence continue. Julia has blocked Adam on Facebook, but believes that he posts on his own Facebook page long tirades accusing Julia of preventing him from seeing the child, and as a consequence she has been verbally attacked online by his followers.

    Julia feels her life is starting to get back to normal now that she is dealing with the domestic violence and parenting matters, and she and the child are living away from Adam and in a safe and supportive environment with her mother. She is seeing friends again who she was cut off from when she was with Adam; Adam would either disallow visits or make them feel uncomfortable when they did visit. Many of Julia’s belongings including furniture were damaged from Adam throwing them into the yard, so when it came time for her to move to her mother’s house, she was left with very little. While Julia’s experience of the court support service is very positive, she remains concerned that the police disbelieve her, and she is therefore unlikely to seek their help in the future. Julia is keeping copies/recordings of all text and voicemail messages from Adam, and she has applied for legal aid to fund legal representation for the protection order hearing. Adam has transferred his accounts and assets to his mother and told Julia that she won’t get a cent. Julia has applied for a child support assessment.

  • Leyla is 15 years old.

    Leyla moved to Australia from Iraq when she was 12 years old. Leyla lives with her parents, siblings and uncle.

    Leyla’s mother told Leyla that arrangements had been made for her to marry an older cousin in Iraq. In preparation for the marriage, Leyla’s family travelled to Iraq and paid a dowry. Leyla’s parents told Leyla that after the end of the next school term, she would no longer be going to school. Leyla’s older brother told Leyla she didn’t need to go to school now because soon she would be married. Her new role would be to look after her husband and their home.

    Leyla did not want to get married. Leyla wanted to keep going to school. She likes school. For Leyla, it feels very important to her that she finishes her education.

    Leyla told her mother that she did not want to get married. In response, Leyla’s mother told Leyla that she was bringing shame on her family. Leyla’s mother slapped Leyla in the face and pushed her, causing her to hit her head against the wall. Leyla’s mother took away her mobile.

    Leyla told her teacher about her family’s plans to force her into marriage. Her teacher made a report to the child protection agency, who contacted the Australian Federal Police.

    Leyla left home with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. Leyla now lives in youth supported accommodation.

    Once Leyla left home, she also disclosed that her uncle had been sexually inappropriate towards her, including exposing himself to her. This allegation was investigated by police and child protection.

    The Australian Federal Police referred Leyla to Legal Aid. With the representation of Legal Aid, Leyla made an application to the Family Law Court for orders placing Leyla’s name on the Family Law Watch List and restraining her family from removing her from Australia or from forcing her into marriage.

    Leyla’s family have made ongoing threats to Leyla. Leyla’s brother sent Leyla a message over Facebook saying “If you don’t come home soon, then Dad will have you killed”. With the assistance of Legal Aid, Leyla reported this behaviour to the police. Police applied for a protection order to protect Leyla.

    Living in supported accommodation, Leyla feels very isolated from her religion, culture, family and friends. Leyla has struggled with her mental health; and at times, has felt suicidal.

  • Lisa and Sean were in a relationship for four years, and had a child together who was aged around two years at separation. Also living with them was Lisa’s primary school aged child from a previous relationship. Both of these children have disabilities and special needs. Lisa has adult children too; they have families of their own and live independently. Sean was still married to someone else when he and Lisa met through work. Lisa did not complete high school; however she has spent some years studying to gain qualifications that will enhance her employment prospects. Sean qualified in a trade and has held a well-remunerated position for at least as long as Lisa has known him. Sean has an illicit drug habit and misuses alcohol.

    When Lisa and Sean moved in together, Sean wanted Lisa to stop work and be a stay-at-home mum. This was unfamiliar to Lisa as she had always worked to support herself and her children through years of mostly single parenting. Initially, she was thrilled by Sean’s generosity and the prospect that they could establish a happy, stable family life together without the pressure of her having to earn money. Over time however, Lisa realised that this was Sean’s way of asserting his control over her. Details also emerged about Sean that she hadn’t previously been aware of, in particular his history of serious drug use and ongoing use. In the first year of their relationship, Sean expected Lisa to support him through the difficulties he was experiencing in divorcing his wife and then with the illness of a close family member. Despite also having to study and care for a child with disabilities, Sean insisted that Lisa’s focus be on him. This was an intense time for Lisa; she miscarried, and then later successfully conceived.

    During Lisa’s pregnancy, Sean’s behaviour towards Lisa became violent and abusive, and his drug use increased. He objected to Lisa making contact with her former work colleagues (especially males), and monitored her Facebook activity. The reception on Lisa’s phone network was so poor that Lisa was mostly unable to call friends. Sean, on the other hand, was in regular phone and Facebook contact with female friends, one of whom sent him provocative photos of herself. When Lisa suggested this was inappropriate, Sean got angry and told her she was jealous and paranoid. When Sean was coming down from a drug bender, he would anger easily, and shout at and belittle Lisa’s other child. This infuriated Lisa and she tried to stand her ground with him; Sean told her she wasn’t allowed to shout. On one occasion, Sean returned home, smashed his phone in front of Lisa, and then flung a heavy jacket and zipper across her pregnant stomach resulting in bleeding and long-term injury to the child. She spent over a week in hospital and was distressed knowing that her other child was in Sean’s care while he and friends had long sessions of alcohol and drug taking.

    After their child was born, they moved to an isolated regional town so that Sean could take up a higher-paid position. Lisa only had access to the Centrelink family allowance payments to buy groceries, clothes and other household expenses. Sean made the mortgage repayments on the house and spent the balance of his wage as he wished. When Lisa asked him to supplement the family benefit payments, which were insufficient to cover the family’s needs, he would become aggressive and argumentative. Lisa was blamed for living costs and anything else that Sean refused to take responsibility for, including falling asleep at the wheel while driving, with Lisa and the children as passengers. Lisa has an ‘inside’ dog that she and her other child remain very close to. Sean made the dog live outside with his own dog, which inevitably resulted in fights. Sean told Lisa she needed to put her dog down; she resisted and kept the dog.

    Sean made no effort to help with the care of the children, the dogs or the home. Lisa attended to all of these things even when their child was an infant and awake through the night with feeding and teething troubles. Early one morning, Lisa asked for help with the baby; Sean told her she was lazy, and went back to Facebooking his friends. Again, Lisa was exasperated by his response and kicked a large, empty water bottle along the floor towards him. Sean grabbed and threw her against the wall, dislocating and disfiguring her shoulder. While Tina screamed in pain, Sean yelled abuse at her for an hour before driving her to the hospital. He then apologised profusely, begging that Lisa not pursue charges. The hospital gave Lisa the name of a local domestic and family violence service, and referred them both to joint counselling, which they attended briefly. Sean refused a recommendation to attend all male counselling.

    It was six months before Lisa was given an appointment for surgery to correct her serious shoulder injury. Meanwhile, she endured significant pain, and Sean subjected her to further violence. A particularly frightening incident involved Sean lifting Lisa up and throwing her through a door frame. She managed to head butt him and knock out two of his front teeth. She later suffered another miscarriage and prolonged bleeding. When it came time for Lisa’s surgery, a family member came to help out. This angered Sean too. When they left, Lisa was exhausted, managing her post-operative pain with medication, looking after the baby and older child, and sleeping on the couch to avoid confrontation with Sean. One evening, he demanded that Lisa have sex with him—as he always had—and, for the first time, she refused. He followed her around the house obsessively, and when in the baby’s room, punched his fist through the wall beside her head. The next morning, Sean left for work as if nothing had happened. Lisa packed up the children and her belongings, contacted the local domestic and family violence service and organised a Centrelink support payment, and drove to another state. Lisa arranged for her other child to stay with the child’s father with whom she has a healthy and constructive relationship; and Lisa and the baby went into temporary crisis accommodation until she could get set up in a rental house. She asked Sean to send money to assist as she knew he had extra cash.

    Lisa had settled the children into their new home when Sean arrived wanting to see them, and seeking a reconciliation. Lisa agreed on the basis that they live in a city location. They moved into Sean’s former marital home (of which he was now the sole owner under Family Court orders) and resumed an intimate relationship. Lisa insisted on a lease in the event that things did not work out with Sean. She paid the rent and utilities bills, and Sean made the mortgage repayments. Before long, Lisa experienced further serious health problems, and required extended hospital treatment. Sean refused to take leave from work to care for the children, so she was forced to take them with her to the hospital. At this point, Lisa told Sean to leave the home as she’d had enough. She asserted her rights as lessee of the property. Periods of making up and breaking up followed, however they continued sexual relations.

    Sean’s lawyers served an eviction notice on Lisa claiming that the property was to be sold. She vacated, and Sean moved back in; he had no intention of selling the property. Sean would often stay over at Lisa’s new address, and she agreed to informal and regular overnight contact arrangements. When she refused further sexual relations, and soon after her hospital treatment, Sean made an application for 50/50 shared residence of their child, notwithstanding the child’s very young age and special needs. Lisa applied for a protection order against Sean, but he persuaded her to withdraw it before service claiming that he would otherwise lose his job.

    Over the following twelve months, the windows in Lisa’s house and car were repeatedly smashed, and her house was broken into on multiple occasions. She is certain that Sean and his friends were the offenders. Sean also parked out the front of the house from time to time in different vehicles, and publicly abused and demeaned her on Facebook. On police advice, Lisa obtained a temporary protection order against Sean. Sean also made a cross application falsely alleging that Lisa misused alcohol during her pregnancy causing long-term harm to their child. Both applications were heard together: Lisa was granted a 12 month protection order; and Sean’s application was dismissed. Lisa reported a breach of the temporary order involving Sean and others throwing rocks through her car windscreen and into her house near sleeping children. Police told her they were busy, and a photographer would attend in 24 hours. The current order allows Sean to ring the children at certain hours over the weekend. He is often stoned or drunk when he calls, and Lisa can never predict whether he’ll be cooperative or aggressive.

    Family Court parenting and property proceedings resulted in Sean having fortnightly access; there were two family reports prepared but the findings were not followed by the court. Lisa suspects that the protection order hearing was deferred pending the outcome of the Family Court matters, which were scheduled for a later time. Sean was told by the judge at the interim hearing that he would not succeed on his shared residence application; he persisted regardless.

    Sean was legally represented, Lisa was not. She has been unable to access Legal Aid, and continues to do her best to manage these legal matters herself, with considerable difficulty. Lisa is however appreciative of the understanding and practical help she has received from local community legal services, domestic and family violence services, and court support. Lisa is still concerned for her own safety and the safety of her younger child. She believes that Sean is incapable of taking proper care of the child who often returns home after contact visits with cuts, bruises and rashes. Lisa felt frustrated and intimidated by the delays in the resolution of the protection order and parenting and property matters, and Sean’s contribution to that delay.

  • Sandra and Gary lived in a defacto relationship for some six years, though not continuously due to Gary’s violence towards Sandra. They have two children together, both boys, aged approximately three and one on separation; the younger boy has a serious genetic disability with limited life expectancy. Sandra had previously been in an abusive relationship, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a physical assault by a stranger. She completed secondary education and is employed in a sales position. Gary is on a disability support pension, earns little or no additional income, and has an alcohol and drug dependency. Gary has had protection orders made against him in two different states as a result of his perpetration of domestic and family violence in two separate prior relationships.

    Gary’s violence towards Sandra began around six months into their relationship. He would strike out at her physically, splitting her lip; emotionally abuse her, diminishing her self-esteem; and be forceful in his sexual demands, which Sandra would strongly resist rather than acquiesce to. Sandra has a horse she has cared for and been emotionally attached to for many years. Gary would threaten to shoot the horse, or slit the horse’s throat; he also threatened to kill Sandra’s parents. The violence continued after their first child was born when, for example, Gary karate kicked Sandra in the leg while she was holding the young child. Both Sandra and the child were hospitalised, and Child Safety formally intervened and arranged for their temporary safe accommodation. Sandra has not ever fully recovered from her leg injury, which requires expensive surgery.

    Sandra confided in close friends about the violence she was experiencing and her concerns about bringing up children in that environment. Whilst she was alert to their advice to leave the relationship, she also believed that doing so was likely to escalate Gary’s violence. Sandra sought counselling during the relationship, intentionally without Gary’s knowledge, to develop strategies to cope with the violence. Sandra had attempted on numerous occasions over the years to leave the relationship and relocate to areas a considerable distance away from Gary to ensure her own and her children’s safety. On the birth of the second child, Sandra and the first child moved into a refuge while the newborn was being treated in intensive care at a nearby hospital for his disability related problems and before relocating the three of them to another city. On each occasion, Gary would track down Sandra and the children and seek to re-enter their lives. Focused on acting in the best interests of the children, Sandra would allow Gary to return provided he could be a responsible father towards the boys, not get into trouble with alcohol or drugs, not be violent, and not attempt an intimate relationship with Sandra.

    However Gary’s violence and dysfunctional behaviour continued. Sandra reported the violence to police in a range of locations, and obtained protection orders either on her own behalf or police-initiated. Following instances of attempted strangulation, stalking and telephone harassment Gary was convicted of breaches of these protection orders, resulting in brief periods of incarceration in the local watch house and suspended sentences. Gary was never charged with criminal assault or stalking.

    When Sandra and the children finally left, she obtained a temporary protection order against Gary stipulating email contact only between them, as well as Family Court parenting orders stipulating that Sandra have residence of the children and Gary have contact with the first child every second weekend, and the second child for 8 hours of every second weekend. Gary paid Sandra negligible child support; Sandra was supporting the children almost entirely from her own resources. Sandra had been concerned about Gary’s veiled threats not to return the older child to her, when this in fact transpired and the child remained with Gary for 28 days without attending school for eight of those days. Sandra qualified for Legal Aid and, after some delay, succeeded in child recovery proceedings against Gary. Whilst Sandra believed that Child Safety was diligent in its conduct of their part of the proceedings, she expressed frustration that police did not intervene immediately due to a belief that they have no powers in Family Court matters.

    Subsequently, Gary sought a variation of the Family Court parenting orders to alter changeover from a supervised contact centre to parent-managed arrangements. In time, Sandra agreed, hoping that this would help the children feel more normal and relaxed about moving between parents; she also acknowledged that the contact centre was expensive and involved lengthy car trips, which weren’t good for the children. During these negotiations, Gary succeeded in securing repeated adjournments of the final protection order hearing on the basis that the Family Court orders ought be finalised first. Once finalised, on an occasion when she felt too intimidated by Gary to be present for the changeover, Sandra asked a male friend to be there on her behalf; he was intoxicated and an altercation ensued with Gary and his new partner. Soon after, the final protection order hearing took place, and while Sandra obtained a two-year order against Gary, with the children named as protected parties, Gary applied for and obtained an identical order (commonly referred to as a cross order or mirror order) against Sandra.

    Sandra reported that on the many occasions she’d had contact with police, she experienced understanding and supportive officers who were focused on ensuring that she and her children remained safe. There was only one occasion she recalled when an officer doubted the veracity of her account that Gary had arrived angry and intoxicated at her home at midnight while she and the children were asleep then escaped without trace; and queried why she hadn’t taken photographs of Gary trying to enter the house. Sandra also believed that her experiences of the legal and court processes were generally positive, and despite not having perpetrated violence against Gary, she felt safer overall for having the final protection order, and confident that she would never be in breach of the order against her.

  • 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.