Recent changes to the Family Law Act have expanded the definition of Domestic Violence. In June 2012 the long awaited amendments were passed and came into law. Domestic Violence (or Family Violence as it is known under the Act) includes such things as assault, sexual assault, stalking and destroying property but it has now been expanded to include:
• repeated derogatory taunts;
• intentionally causing death or injury to an animal;
• unreasonably denying financial autonomy;
• unreasonably withholding financial support; and
• preventing a family member from having contact with family or friends.
The Act also describes examples about when a child has been exposed to family violence which includes:
• overhearing threats of death or injury;
• seeing or hearing an assault;
• providing assistance to a family member who has been assaulted;
• cleaning up after a family member has caused damage to property; and
• being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving an assault.
The changes have potentially far reaching consequences for any parent who ends up before the Family Court or the Federal Magistrates Court. Prior to the amendments, the Court was directed to certain considerations in determining the best interests of children. Previously, there were two primary considerations that were given equal weight. The two primary considerations were:
1. The benefit of the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents;
2. The need to protect the child from family violence.
Following the amendments, the Court is now required to give greater weight to protecting children from family violence.
With the expansion of the definition of family violence there is likely to be more conduct that will be encaptured as representing violence. Clients have often complained that their spouse has sought to exercise control over them by not providing financial support or cutting them off from family and friends. The changes to the Act are designed to ensure that the Court takes this type of behaviour more seriously.