The start of 2017 has seen several high profile names appear in the headlines alongside three potent little letters:
Both cases are yet to be finalised by a court, but they do serve as a prudent reminder to Australian men and women that there are options available, should you feel in need of protection.
Each Australian state has its own laws relating to obtaining these orders – and each state gives them a different name. In Victoria they are called ‘Intervention Orders; in Queensland they are called ‘Domestic Violence Protection Orders’; in NSW they are called ‘Apprehended Violence Orders’.
The names are different but the processes are similar. Here we’re calling it a domestic violence order (check out the links at the end of this article for the details of your own state).
While this is information you hope you’ll never need to know, it’s always best to be informed.
What sort of behaviour can be the subject of a domestic violence order?
Domestic or family violence might include:
- psychological or emotional abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- financial restrictions or control
- obsessive or jealous behaviour
The Queensland Legal Aid website has a helpful list of examples of what might constitute domestic and family violence, from harassing text messages to threatening to disclose your sexual orientation without your consent.
I’ve experienced domestic violence or I’m in fear of it: what are some of my legal options?
If you are experiencing violence in a relationship you can:
- apply for a domestic violence order to help stop the violence
- apply for an urgent temporary protection order
- ask the police to press charges against the person being violent.
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What does a domestic violence prevention order do?
A domestic violence order limits the behaviour of the person who is being violent towards you. They must be well-behaved towards you and anyone else named in the order. The court might include other requirements like the violent person must leave your house or not come anywhere near your home or work. Once an order has been made, it is illegal for them to breach the order and you should call the police. There may be other terms, for example, in Queensland, the violent person can’t own a weapon or have a weapons licence (their licence is automatically revoked).
Who can apply for an order?
You can apply for a domestic violence order if you are experiencing violence in a relationship. Relationships might include:
- an intimate personal relationship
- a family relationship
- an informal care relationship (where one person is dependent on the other person for help in an activity of daily living like dressing and cooking for them)
- in the case of an Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait Islander, an extended family or kin (according to the Indigenous kinship system of the person’s culture).
If you are afraid of a person who you are not in a relationship with – say a violent neighbour, co-worker or former friend who has threatened you, you may be able to apply for an apprehended violence order. The details are similar to the process for a domestic violence order (but not always – check for your state).
How do I apply for an order?
Start with a call to the police to report the behaviour. They will be able to give you advice and may be able to make the application for you.
You can apply for a domestic violence order using an application form at a magistrates court (or local court in NSW) or get a police officer, lawyer or someone you trust to apply for you.
If you are applying for a domestic violence order, it’s a good idea to get legal advice – you don’t have to, but it’s a very serious order and it’s a helpful way to know what your options and rights are.
What about protecting my children?
You can include your children in the protection order.
What will I have to say in the application?
You’ll need to sign a statutory declaration that outlines why you are afraid for your own safety or the safety of your children and include examples of the violent person’s behaviour or statements. It’s an offence to make a misleading statement to a magistrate (or registrar in NSW) so make sure you are detailed but accurate.
What happens once you’ve made the application?
Once you’ve made an application, you’ll be given a court date. The violent person will be told the date and given a copy of your application (by the police). That person can agree to the order, oppose it (they’ll need to get a lawyer to do that) or ask for another court date to give them time to get legal advice.
If you are fearful of imminent harm, you can apply for an urgent order. You’ll go to court soon after you apply but before the violent person is told. You will be given another date when you and the other person will go to court to tell the magistrate about your situation. If you have a lawyer, they may be able to go to this court hearing for you.
What if I’m scared to go to the court when my ex-partner is there?
The magistrate’s court or local court staff can help you with any safety concerns you might have while in the precinct of the court. Talk to them about it. They may give you an additional safety form to fill out that won’t be part of your application but will be kept with your file so that they know that you’ll need extra assistance when your court appearance happens. In some states, you may be permitted to submit evidence via audio-visual link.
What should I do if the order is broken?
If the person threatens you or is violent or otherwise breaches a term of the order, you should ring the police, who will investigate. Breaching the order is a criminal offence (and there may be other offences committed while breaching the order like assault or property damage). It is helpful if you keep evidence of the breach, like recording threatening phonecalls or keeping a diary, notes or photos of what has happened.
Where can I find more information?
One in three women will experience violence in their lifetime, so the best thing you can do is stay informed – that way, you’ll know what to do if the worst happens, or you can support a friend or family member if it happens to them.
Phone 1800RESPECT or go to the website for support and detailed information. The website has a specific information on applying for domestic violence orders in every state and territory. On that website, you’ll also find information on safety planning – but it’s important to remember, if you, a child or anyone else is in immediate danger, call 000 immediately.