What is Family Violence?


Amendments to the definitions of “family violence” and “abuse” have been made to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ("the Act"). The Attorney General’s Office indicated the reasons for these amendments were as follows:

  1. Disincentives to disclose family violence to the Courts have been removed;
  2. The definitions of family violence and child abuse have been updated to set out what type of behaviour is unacceptable – such as physical and emotional abuse and the exposure of children to family violence;
  3. To enable appropriate action to be taken to prioritise the safety of children in family law disputes.

The amendments have broadened the definition of “family violence” as follows:

  1. Family violence means the violent, threatening or other behaviours by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family, or causes the family member to be fearful.
  2. Examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence include (but are not limited to):
  • Assault;
  • Sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour;
  • Stalking;
  • Repeated derogatory taunts;
  • Intentionally damaging or destroying property;
  • Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal;
  • Unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would have otherwise had;
  • Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support;
  • Preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture;
  • Unlawfully depriving the family member, or any family member of the family member’s family, of his or her liberty.

Other changes include the following:

  1. The definition of abuse has been amended to include serious neglect and causing a child serious psychological harm, which includes being subjected to or exposed to family violence.
  2. Under the Act 'a child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or otherwise experiences the effects of family violence'.
  3. The Family Court must now give more importance to the need to protect a child from physical harm versus the need to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.
  4. Parties are required to notify the Court of any child protection matters, including notifications and investigations.

The amendments continue to place children at the centre of family law matters. The Court’s paramount consideration when making a parenting order is the best interests of the child. The Court also considers the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents; and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.

The Act endeavours to put the safety of children first, without compromising a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents.


This article reflected the state of the law at the time of publication. But the law is a living creation which is constantly changing and adapting. These articles should be treated as an information resource only and not as a substitute for specific legal advice in respect to your particular problems and circumstances.

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