Family violence: Overview

icon for family violence

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Courts) take family violence very seriously.

The Courts are guided by the following principles in responding to family violence concerns:

  • Safety is a right and a priority for everyone.
  • Family violence affects everyone in a family.
  • The Courts have a particular concern about both the immediate and longer-term impacts of family violence on children.
  • Family violence can occur before, during and after separation. This may affect an individual's ability to make choices about their family law matter and to take part in court events.

What is family violence?

Family violence is a serious problem in our community. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Court) deals with families and relationships and a significant proportion of matters before the Court involve allegations of family violence. The focus of this video is on family violence and what it means.

4:03 MIN

An AUSLAN version of this video is also available.

Section 4AB of the Family Law Act 1975 describes family violence as violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.

Examples of behaviours that may constitute family violence include (but are not limited to):

  • assault (including sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour)
  • stalking
  • repeated derogatory taunts
  • intentionally damaging or destroying property
  • intentionally causing death or injury to an animal
  • unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, of his or her liberty
  • unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had, or
  • 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, and
  • preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture. 

The definition of child abuse includes serious psychological harm arising from the child being subjected to or exposed to family violence. Further detail is set out in section 4(1) of the Family Law Act.

Forms of family violence

Not all family violence involves physical violence. It can take many forms such as sexual violence and coercion, emotional abuse (including denigration), financial abuse, and spiritual or cultural abuse.

While family violence is most commonly directed toward a current or former partner, it may also be directed to another member of the family such as a parent or sibling.

Research consistently indicates that all forms of family violence can cause short or long term physical and/or emotional trauma for children, young people and adults. For information about its impacts on children please see Family violence and children.

Family violence can also affect a person’s willingness and ability:

  • to initiate legal proceedings
  • to come to the Court
  • to participate in court events, and/or
  • to achieve settlement of their dispute through negotiation.

Family Advocacy and Support Services

Each Australian state and territory has a Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS). FASS provides free legal advice and support at court for people affected by domestic and family violence.

If you are worried about your safety at court or about going to court, please talk to your local FASS before your court date.

FASS can:

  • help you plan for your safety
  • talk to the Court about your safety at court
  • give you information and support during your family law case
  • help with practical problems like Centrelink and housing
  • advocate for you with services like police, and
  • connect you with other services.