My partner has become abusive but we still live together with our children. What can I do when things get bad?
You do not need to wait until things get bad again. If you have been suffering abuse from your partner, it is crucial that you take steps to protect yourself and your children. There are many professional agencies available to support you and your family. These include Women’s Refuge, Shine, or the It’s Not Okay information line.
Make an appointment to see a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options. They will be able to explain the law and help you navigate your next steps. They will also give you the details of the relevant agencies who you can contact to help you work through this process from both a practical and emotional perspective.
If you earn a low income, you may be eligible for legal aid. If granted legal aid, the government will cover your legal fees. However, you will have to pay this back over time. Your lawyer can assist you in determining whether you are eligible for legal aid. They can also advise other options you have to help you cover your legal costs.
If your partner becomes threatening again, it is important that you involve the Police. They have the power to issue a “Police Safety Order” (PSO). A PSO will require your partner to stay away from you and the family home, for up to 10 days. This is a really powerful tool as it will give you some ‘breathing space’. It allows you to get the support you need to take more long-term steps.
How do I protect my family in the long-term?
Once you have taken legal advice, you will have a clearer picture of the best next-steps in your circumstances. You may need a Temporary Protection Order. A temporary protection order requires your partner to stay away from you and the children, or any place you might regularly visit (such as your place of work, gym or school). This order would prevent your partner from contacting you in any way, whether directly or indirectly. It is a criminal offence to breach a protection order.
To obtain a temporary protection order, your lawyer will help you file an application with the Family Court. An application can be made ‘without notice’ if your circumstances require the order to be made urgently. Your partner will be unaware of the application until a Judge has made a decision. Your evidence must show that there has been family violence in your relationship and a protection order is necessary to protect you and the children from the risk of future violence. An application can also be made ‘on notice’ if necessary. Your lawyer will assess which type of application applies to your circumstances.
If the Judge is satisfied that your circumstances meet the threshold, a temporary protection order will be granted to protect you and the children. Your partner will then be served with the order and a copy of your application. Your partner then has an opportunity to respond. If your partner wants to defend the application, the Court will set the matter down for a hearing in the next few months. At the hearing a Judge will determine whether the temporary order should be made final (in which case it will be in place for the long-term).
The Family Court also has the power to grant an Occupation Order or a Tenancy Order. This order secures your ability to remain living in the family home with the children, while protection proceedings are ongoing. If you are renting, you will apply for a Tenancy Order, and if you own your home, you need an Occupation Order. You may also apply for an Ancillary Furniture Order, to enable you to have use of all the furniture in the home, while proceedings are ongoing.
Again, and as outlined above, it is important that you engage with the Police and the various agencies which are available to help victims of family violence to help you through this process.