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More women seeking legal help for family violence

June 03, 2024
Mornington News

At a time when the Prime Minister has declared a “national crisis” of family violence, the Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of women escaping violent relationships and is struggling to keep up with demand. Close to 55% of people accessing the centre’s legal services report experiencing family violence and family law problems, with record numbers of women requiring legal support on safety, family law, and housing issues.

“The alarming spike in the number of women being killed around the country has led to a national conversation about family and gender-based  violence,” said PCLC’s CEO Jackie Galloway. “This has brought into sharp focus the intersecting nature of the national family violence, housing and cost of living crises. This also comes at a time when there were only modest increases to funding in the recent federal budget for legal and other front-line programs for women fleeing family violence, despite calls from the sector that the system is drastically underfunded.”

Tens of thousands of women fleeing family violence rely on free legal assistance from community legal centres like PCLC every year.  This ranges from representing women at court to obtain family violence intervention orders, to navigating the family law system to sort out parenting agreements, child support and property settlement.

“PCLC’s family law team recently assisted a woman and her two young daughters who fled across the country to live with the women’s parents in Victoria. They were fleeing years of family violence which would have left them homeless in the other state, where there were only 0.3% rental vacancies in the area,’ said Ms Galloway. “The perpetrator made a court application for the children to be returned to him, despite his long history of family violence and the fact that the eldest daughter was not his biological child. This led to extremely complex legal proceedings in different states. PCLC’s family lawyer worked with a community legal centre in the other state to successfully have the violent ex-partner’s application quashed, and also initiated family law proceedings for the mother to keep her children and remain safely in Victoria”.

Without the free services provided by PCLC and legal aid services, women are often forced to incur huge debts to pay legal fees, represent themselves in court, agree to unfair parenting and child support arrangements, or stay in the abusive relationship.

“Our lawyers are often involved for years in helping women through the legal system,” Ms Galloway said. “Many violent ex-partners use the legal system to continue the abuse by initiating false family violence claims against the victim-survivor. Others deliberately drag out family law proceedings to pressure the victim-survivor to agree to unfair parenting, child support or property arrangements.”

Perpetrators of family violence also use legal costs as another way of continuing the abuse, particularly if the perpetrator has more money than a victim-survivor, who might have been subjected to financial abuse and prevented from working. The perpetrator’s aim is to effectively bankrupt the victim-survivor, making it impossible for them to move on with their lives.

“PCLC has one client who first came to the centre for help six years ago to obtain a Family Violence Intervention Order against her violent ex-husband”, said Ms Galloway. “The perpetrator then applied to the court seeking sole parental responsibility of the child and no time with the mother, and deliberately dragged out the proceedings for years. Our client is from a culturally and linguistically diverse background and does not have a support network in Australia, and only has very limited financial resources. She was so worn down by the perpetrator’s behaviour that she almost gave up. Our lawyers continued to help her throughout her ordeal, and the court just recently granted her sole parental responsibility and primary care of the child. We are hoping that this will finally end her nightmare.“

With data from the federal circuit and family court indicating that eighty per cent of family law cases involve family violence, there is an ongoing need for family law reform to improve the legal system’s ability to better protect victim-survivors.

“Recent changes to the family law system have made it fairer and more accessible for women trying to escape family violence,” said Ms Galloway. “While these changes are starting to make a difference, much more still needs to be done. To give just one example, the Family Law Act should be further amended to make family violence a consideration in property disputes, which would acknowledge that victim-survivors of abuse often have less ability to contribute to the family property pool.”

But above all, what is most needed is a huge injection of funding in the family violence legal sector.

“Due to limited funding, the number of women who receive help from community legal centres like PCLC and legal aid services is a tiny fraction of those who need it. We need a massive injection of funding and longer-term funding agreements”, Ms Galloway said. “The government response to family violence needs to build on the knowledge acquired over several decades of experience and provide reliable and adequate funding to all of the intersecting front-line services that assist victim-survivors.”

The Peninsula Community Legal Centre provides free legal services to people experiencing family violence and family law problems in Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula.  For a free appointment contact PCLC at (03)9783 3600, email


DATE: 28 May 2024


Kirsten Young


T 9783 3600;


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