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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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ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.

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To support the take-up of evidence, ANROWS offers a range of resources developed from research to support practitioners and policy-makers in delivering evidence-based interventions.


RESEARCH SUMMARY

Exploring the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in family law proceedings involving allegations of family violence: Key findings and future directions

This is an edited summary of key findings from the ANROWS research project Exploring the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in Family Law proceedings involving allegations of family violence.

There are high numbers of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the Australian Family Law system, as well as a high proportion of matters involving family violence. The extent of self-representation and the prevalence of family violence in Family Law matters suggests that both of these issues are likely to occur in the same proceedings. The co-occurrence of self-representation and allegations of family violence in Family Law proceedings generates a wide range of challenges for SRLs as well as the courts and legal professionals.

This project examines the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in Family Law proceedings involving allegations of family violence.

 

Key findings
  • There are a number of services available to SRLs to obtain information and advice, but obtaining legal advice specific to a case—particularly ongoing, rather than once-off, advice—is very difficult.
  • An SRL’s capacity to present their case in the courtroom is impacted by their expectations of the process (which often don’t match reality), their ability to prepare, and symptoms of trauma caused by experiences of family violence.
  • There is a heavy emphasis in family law cases on paperwork and negotiations. SRLs are often unaware of this and are not equipped to complete paperwork, or to negotiate, in a way that effectively supports their case.
  • Some SRL victims of family violence continue to experience violence in the courtroom and court precinct. How safe an SRL feels can impact their presentation in court, and hence the outcomes of a case. However, safety measures in the court are not always employed when they should be, and SRLs are not always aware of what is available.

 

Key recommendations
  • Increase access to lawyers and legal advice for SRLs. Consider how such services can better assist SRLs with ongoing litigation and with preparation and drafting of documents.
  • Provide enhanced, up-to-date and practical information for SRLs in multiple formats (including face to face) and provision for languages other than English, including a centralised, authoritative website for SRLs.
  • Enhance family violence expertise across key court personnel.
  • Address possible system change, particularly with a view to the fragmentation of areas of law that respond to family violence. This would include reducing the complexity of Family Law matters, in terms of both the legislation and the process.

 

 

Publication details

ANROWS Research to policy and practice papers are concise papers that summarise key findings of research on violence against women and their children, including research produced under ANROWS’s research program, and provide advice on the implications for policy and practice.


Suggested citation

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2020). Exploring the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in family law proceedings involving allegations of family violence: Key findings and future directions (Research to policy and practice, 24/2020). Sydney: ANROWS.

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