The Family Law Act 1975 contains several provisions designed to protect parties and children from family violence. Section 4(1) of the Family Law Act states that abuse, in relation to a child, includes causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, including (but not limited to) when that harm is caused by the child being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence.
Family violence is traumatic for children and can have long lasting effects. Under section 4AB of the Family Law Act, a child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or otherwise experiences the effects of family violence.
Examples provided in the Family Law Act of situations that may constitute a child being exposed to family violence include (but are not limited to):
- overhearing threats of death or personal injury by a member of the child’s family towards another member of the child’s family, or
- seeing or hearing an assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family, or
- comforting or providing assistance to a member of the child’s family who has been assaulted by another member of the child’s family, or
- cleaning up a site after a member of the child’s family has intentionally damaged property of another member of the child’s family, or
- being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving the assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family.
There are a range of other ways a child may be impacted by family violence.
Under section 67Z of the Family Law Act, the Court must be notified if a parenting matter involves allegations of family violence or child abuse. An interested person in proceedings must notify the Court if one of the parties to the proceedings has already committed family violence, or if there is a risk of family violence being committed by one of the parties by filing the Notice of child abuse, family violence or risk. An interested person in proceedings is a party to the proceeding, an Independent Children’s Lawyer who represents the interest of the child in the proceeding, or a person who is not a party to the proceeding.
For more information about notifying the Court see How the Court considers safety and risk.
Child protection law
State and territory governments are primarily responsible for the child protection law in Australia. State and territory child welfare agencies may intervene in family settings and seek orders in relation to the care and protection of a child or young person as a result of a notification of harm or significant risk of harm to a child. Child protection orders are different to both family law orders and family violence orders. They are made by a state or territory children's court when it is believed that a child is in need of protection. However, children can also be included on family violence orders made for a parent (if appropriate).
- Australian Capital Territory: Children and Young People Act 2008
- New South Wales: Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998
- Northern Territory: Care and Protection of Children Act 2007
- Queensland: Child Protection Act 1999
- South Australia: Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017
- Tasmania: Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997
- Victoria: Children, Youth and Families Act 2005
- Western Australia: Children and Community Services Act 2004