Welcome Family Court Move to Triage DV Matters – Now States Must Prioritise Child Safety

The Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Will Alstergren, has announced new measures to triage urgent parenting disputes relating to children within 72 hours, “especially those involving issues of risk and family violence”.

Women’s Safety NSW is extremely pleased with the decision. Ten days earlier, the peak body, which represents domestic violence workers supporting women and their children following police incidents in NSW, and through both NSW local court and family law matters had provided advice to governments from a state-wide survey which showed a serious escalation in risk for separating families due to COVID-19.

“This is a really important decision by Chief Justice Alstergren today,” says Hayley Foster, chief executive officer of Women’s Safety NSW. “If resourced and implemented well, it will have a run-on effect of freeing up state and territory civil and criminal justice systems to properly prioritise child safety in the context of family violence.”

Women’s Safety NSW has been advocating for there to be a greater focus on child safety in the making of apprehended violence orders by police and local court magistrates. 89 per cent of domestic violence court advocacy workers surveyed across NSW last year reported having issues with police not including children as protected persons on ADVO applications either “sometimes”, “usually” or “always”, whilst 59% reported issues with police reluctance to enact an ADVO breach where family law orders exist, notwithstanding the ADVO overriding the family law order.

In the survey undertaken during COVID-19, reported concerns continue, with 60.5% of domestic violence workers surveyed maintaining that police are unable or unwilling to prioritise women and children’s safety because of family law, and 41.9% relaying that local court magistrates also are unable or unwilling to prioritise women and children’s safety because of family law.

“This decision by the Family Court means that including children as protected persons on apprehended violence orders where appropriate can no longer be put in the ‘too-hard’ basket.”

Now.. “Where there is a domestic violence incident, and children are at risk, police can simply make a provisional order for their protection and an application can be made for the matter to be triaged in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court for consideration of interim living and care arrangements that are safe for that family”…

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