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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.


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Domestic violence, social security and the couple rule

This research explores the experiences of women who appealed Centrelink decisions about ‘the couple rule’, in cases where domestic violence was involved.

Centrelink uses ‘the couple rule’ to determine whether a person should be considered a member of a couple for social security purposes. For women attempting to leave a violent partner, the couple rule can cause difficulty, either increase the risk of victims/survivors experiencing poverty, or perpetrators to intimidate victims/survivors by perpetuating economic dependence, ingraining financial and systems abuse.

This research examined publicly available Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) decisions that involved domestic violence and the couple rule. Decisions were analysed with the aim of detailing the dynamic between domestic violence, social security payments and the couple rule.

The research also explored the extent to which women applying to the AAT belonged to the priority groups identified in the ANROWS National Research Agenda (2014), being:

  • culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women;
  • older women;
  • women with disability;
  • women who are or have been incarcerated;
  • lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender women; and
  • women living in rural or remote areas.

The research explored the ways in which these groups are impacted by the application of the couple rule.



Publication details

This work is part of the ANROWS Research reports series. ANROWS Research reports (Horizons) are in-depth reports on empirical research produced under ANROWS’s research program.


Law Futures Centre, Griffith University

ISBN: 978-1-925925-05-0 (print) |  978-1-925925-06-7 (online)

74 pp.


Suggested citation

Sleep, L. (2019). Domestic violence, social security and the couple rule (Research report, 04/2019). Sydney, NSW: ANROWS.

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