Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

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Breaking the silence: addressing family violence in long-term relationships


Attwood Marshall Lawyers Consulting Family Law Special Counsel, Michael Twohill, joins Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to talk about the more subtle signs of domestic and family violence, and the changes that have been introduced to help combat this major welfare issue. Domestic and family violence continues to be a serious and widespread problem in Australia, and it is important to continue to have conversations to identify the signs of violence and spread the message that this behaviour is not okay; not now, not ever.


Domestic and family violence has far-reaching effects that can impact individuals of all age groups. However, certain groups may be more vulnerable than others. While it is important to recognise that both men and women can experience domestic and family violence, women are disproportionately affected by the issue. Unfortunately, elderly individuals are also at a high risk of being physically, emotionally, and financially abused.

Domestic and family violence encompasses a wide range of abusive behaviours that can occur within relationships and households. Not all behaviours may start at the beginning of a relationship. It can quite often be the case that abusive and violent behaviours emerge later in life; it can be a slow and gradual process. And unfortunately, for older people experiencing abuse from their current partner which may have evolved over many years, they may not even be aware that they are in a violent or abusive relationship.

Given their declining physical health, cognitive impairments, or dependence on others for care and financial support, elderly individuals can be vulnerable to domestic and family violence and can find themselves in a more difficult position to protect themselves from this type of behaviour and leave the relationship.

The red flags: signs of domestic and family violence

There are certain behaviours to look out for if you suspect someone is in a domestic violence situation.

The sad reality is many people do not identify the signs themselves even when they are the one in the relationship experiencing it.

Victims can often excuse the behaviour of their partner or dismiss violent acts as a “one-off” or rare event, arguing that their partner simply lost control because they were stressed on a particular day.

In other cases, some victims may have been experiencing certain behaviours from their long-term partner for so long that they may accept that the behaviour is normal and not know that it in fact is domestic violence.

Domestic and family violence can be happening in the form of:

  • Physical violence
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual violence
  • Financial abuse, such as denying someone access to money, including their own
  • Spiritual or cultural abuse, such as preventing someone from belonging to or taking part in practices that relate to their cultural beliefs or religion
  • Coercive control

Red flags to help identify domestic and family violence:

  1. Signs of physical abuse: if someone has unexplained injuries, bruises, or marks, and if the individual offers inconsistent explanations for their injuries.
  2. Behavioural changes: If someone is withdrawing from social activities or are showing sudden changes to their behaviour including crying frequently, showing signs of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem.
  3. Isolation: People in domestic and family violence relationships are often isolated by their partner or family member who tries to stop them from spending time with their friends and family. Isolation is a sure sign of coercive and controlling conduct.
  4. Criticism and control: The victim in the relationship may frequently receive harsh criticism, insults, or belittling from their partner or family member. The abuser may try to control what their partner wears, what activities they participate in, and where they go.
  5. Displaying anxiety around the abuser: The victim may display signs of fear when their abuser is present. They may seek constant permission or approval from their abuser.
  6. Jealousy and possessiveness: The abuser may show excessive jealousy, monitor their partner’s activities, and accuse them of being unfaithful without valid reasoning.
  7. Manipulation: The abuser may threaten to hurt themselves or hurt their partner’s pets or belongings if they do not do as they want, or in response to their partner threatening to leave them.

Domestic and family violence is an extremely complex issue, and these are just a few of the many signs and symptoms of a domestic and family violence in a relationship.

Trying to exit a long-term violent or abusive relationship

Leaving a long-term relationship that involves domestic violence can be incredibly difficult.

Often, the victim has a fear that if they try to leave, or they provoke their partner, that the abuse will escalate further, and their partner will retaliate.

There can also be an emotional attachment. It is an extremely complex issue. Despite the abuse, victims of family violence often still have an emotional attachment and love for their abuser. This is especially the case of those that have been in long-term relationships. They may hold a level of hope that their partner will eventually change, or they may have a fear of being alone.

The victim may also have a lack of support. Abusers tend to isolate their victims from friends, family, colleagues, and other support networks as previously mentioned. The victim then often doesn’t feel like they have anyone they can turn to.

Sadly, domestic and family violence is a leading cause of homelessness in Australia. The reality of being homeless can be a one that deters someone from leaving a violent partner.

According to the 2021-22 Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report, 39% of people seeking help from specialist homelessness services experienced domestic and family violence. That is roughly 108,000 people that year.

In addition to the immediate issues people are faced with such as where they will live if they leave their home, what financial resources to which they will have access to support themselves, there are also the legal implications to consider such as applying for a divorce, negotiating parenting matters, property settlements, and other issues. Later in life, many people share joint assets, and their lives are much more intermingled than when couples first get together.

It is important that when someone is ready to leave a domestic and family violence relationship, that they seek advice from an experienced family lawyer at the earliest opportunity.

A family lawyer will be able to help you understand your financial rights and the steps you need to take to resolve matters about property, spousal maintenance, and children, if applicable.

In some cases, an aggrieved person can make an application to the court for urgent spousal maintenance. For this to occur the applicant will need to show the court that he or she has a financial need and having established a need, that the respondent has the capacity to meet that need. In some cases, this issue can also be resolved in the short term by making an application for an interim property settlement payment with a request for the Judge to determine at the final hearing whether the payment is regarded as partial property settlement or spousal maintenance.

A family lawyer can also help diffuse some of the tension when trying to resolve legal matters so that you can move on with your life.

Recent changes to support victims of family violence

Domestic Violence Shelters

The NSW Government recently launched a plan to build 27 domestic violence shelters across regional NSW which will give more than 3,000 women and children a safe place to go when escaping a violent relationship.

There is a hope that with additional refuge centres being available, it will lead to more women leaving violent homes. The facilities will also offer mental health counsellors, financial services, and learning programs for children.

Hopefully we see more of this action being taken by other states and territories.

Centrelink Rules

Centrelink has changed their rules this year to better help domestic violence victims. Centrelink staff can now use evidence of domestic violence to determine that a Centrelink recipient was not a member of a couple, overriding other evidence such as the fact the individuals were formally married, giving people easier access to benefits they would have otherwise been rejected to receive.

Escaping Domestic Violence Payments

The Australian Government offer the Escaping Family Violence Payment (EVP), which was first introduced by the Morrison government in late 2021. This is a $5,000 support package designed to help victims of family violence leave their situation and set up a new home. The package consists of a one-off payment of $1,500 cash, and other goods and services to the value of $3,500. The payments can be accessed quite quickly and is available to anyone experiencing violence from their partner.

The program was introduced as a two-year trial in 2021, however the Albanese government committed to continue to program, offering $38.2 million in funding to extend the trial until 2025.

Although this payment was intended to be one that people could access quickly, it was reported that in 2022 it was taking 33 days for applicants to receive payment. This wait time has since been reduced to a 6-day turnaround which is a significant improvement to help people needing urgent assistance when fleeing a violent home.

Extending the Mensline Changing for Good Service

The Australian Government committed $8.5 million over four years from 2023-2024 for initiatives aimed at preventing violence and intervening early. The Budget provides for extending the Mensline Changing for Good Service.

The Changing for Good service offers a free multi session one-on-one telephone counselling service for men who want to maintain respectful relationships without using violence.

The initiative is aimed at early intervention to prevent domestic and family violence, including developing a perpetrator risk assessment framework for frontline service providers.

Two programs are available which include:

  1. Post Behaviour Change Program – helping men continue the work they started in a Men’s Behaviour Change Program, offered as a six-month program.
  2. Violence Prevention Program – counselling for men delivered over a two-month program to help men who are worried that their thoughts and behaviours may escalate to violent behaviour.

Strengthening laws to address coercive control

Queensland passed the Domestic and Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022.

The legislation was designed to strengthen laws to address the patterned nature of coercive control and lay a foundation to create a standalone offence of coercive control.

The amendments to the law strengthen the offence of unlawful stalking, broaden the definition of domestic and family violence to include behaviours that occur over time, and strengthen the court’s response to cross applications for protection orders to ensure the protection of the person most at risk.

These changes came off the back of the report from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce which was tabled in state parliament to help victims of domestic and family violence identify the more subtle and vicious forms of control and family violence.

NSW also passed similar laws to make coercive control a stand-alone offence late last year.

Although these initiatives are a step in the right direction, the state governments, and federal government, will continue to have lots to do as they battle this rising issue.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers are here to help

The issue of domestic and family violence is widespread and both State and Federal authorities are continually looking at ways of addressing the issue. As members of the legal profession, we are duty bound to each play our part in addressing this abhorrent issue. We may never completely eliminate domestic and family violence however that should not stop us from creating initiatives to manage and assist those unfortunate persons who have suffered, or may be suffering, abuse. 

If you are experiencing domestic and family violence in your relationship, our experienced family lawyers are available to discuss your circumstances and provide you with guidance quickly and confidentially.

It is our goal to help you in a way that does not cause any more conflict than you are already facing, to ensure your safety is paramount, and to assist you with the overarching legal issues people often face when exiting a violent relationship.

Please contact our friendly family law team by reaching out to DVO Senior Paralegal Brittany Watsford on direct line 07 5506 8264, email or free call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071.

In addition to getting trusted legal advice, there are several hard-working support services available to help anyone affected by family and domestic violence:

  • 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) – confidential information, counselling, and support services
  • DV Connect (1800 811 811) – 24-hour state-wide domestic violence hotline that offers free, professional assistance such as counselling, intervention, transport, and emergency accommodation for people in danger from a violent partner or family member.

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Michael Twohill

Michael Twohill

Special Counsel
Family Law

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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