For most of us, our homes are where we feel safe and secure. For others, a home is a hostile place where safety is not a certainty and where protecting oneself and our family is a daily struggle.
It’s a day by day ritual of walking on eggshells to keep the peace and never knowing what slightest act or word will trigger a violent response.
Practising in family law, we have helped several clients who have walked into our offices terrified for their safety and the safety of their children or others they care for, including pets and elderly relatives. These clients walk in feeling powerless and without options to escape. They tell us of the threats to their safety and those they love if they contemplate changing their situation.
They have shared the daily challenges of keeping children quiet and out of sight to avoid provoking an angry, tired or intoxicated partner.
Almost universally they recount being shut off from family and friends and barely having enough money to pay for groceries and petrol. Who they can see, what they can spend and activities they can do are often restricted. They speak of the mileage on their vehicles and their telephones being monitored. For these clients, isolation has been a long-lived experience to the point they are scared to break free from the control.
Usually, they have little to no knowledge of their financial position and have no access to bank accounts. Assets are rarely held in their names, and if they are, then they usually do not know it.
On several occasions, our team has had to complete property searches to ascertain ownership of assets. Our clients often stare back incredulous that they either own property in their sole name (presumably brought about for asset protection purposes often by a self-employed partner) or jointly with another.
Often if they have mustered the courage to leave an abusive partner, they believe they are alone throughout the process, and they will not have the financial ability to survive or the means to rehouse themselves and their children.
It has been reassuring for these clients to hear that there are people to assist them throughout this time and find ways to obtain financial support, including:
1. Police are only a telephone call away to assist in an emergency. In some circumstances a violent party will be removed from the home leaving the other party and children to remain living in the home protected by an intervention order that prevents the other party returning to the home;
2. In limited circumstances, with the assistance of a lawyer, an intervention order can be obtained privately;
3. There are shelters and community services that provide relief including financial and housing on a temporary (short or long term) basis to enable a person/family at risk to move out of unsafe environment immediately;
4. Applying to government agencies including Centrelink to have eligibility assessed for pensions, rent assistance and financial support with living, health and education expenses;
5. Applying for child support through the child support agency (Department of Human Services). Access the child support agency’s online calculator at www.csa.gov.au to see what child support may be assessed payable; and
6. Making applications for interim lump sums of money and/or transfers of property and, if the circumstances permit, payments of spousal maintenance. These are often complex applications, and legal advice should be obtained from a specialist family lawyer before going down this path.
If you are in a position of fearing for your and your family’s safety or if you want help to make arrangements for the future care arrangements for children and/or to effect a property settlement our team of experienced lawyers are here to work with you to help you.
We will look after you with respect and care, and your information will be treated confidentially and discreetly. Please take advantage of our free first appointment by calling 8212 1077.