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“No straight lines”: Self-represented litigants in family law proceedings involving allegations about family violence

This research focuses on documenting current practice and generating new knowledge about the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in Family Law proceedings involving allegations of family violence.

The research team conducted semi-structured interviews with SRLs and professionals who engage with SRLs in family law proceedings to produce a general interview sample. The researchers then also undertook an intensive case study that involved court observation, case file review, and interviews with SRLs or other representatives involved in those observed/reviewed cases.

The research confirmed that there are high numbers of SRLs engaged in family law cases involving allegations of family violence, and the primary motivation for self-representing is financial. The study revealed that SRLs are impacted by their self-representation, as well as histories of family violence, in numerous ways. Primarily, SRLs lack knowledge of the legal process: for example, they are often unaware of the heavy emphasis on paperwork and negotiation in family law cases, and they are unprepared to complete paperwork, or negotiate, in ways that effectively support their case. Intersecting with the lack of knowledge is the impact of family violence: ability to complete paperwork and negotiate is also affected by experiences of violence and resulting trauma, and perceptions of safety.

Given these findings, the report stresses the importance of enhanced, up-to-date and practical information for SRLs in multiple formats, as well as increased access to lawyers and legal advice. The report also raises the need to explore possible system change, particularly with a view to the fragmentation of areas of law that respond to family violence. Alongside enhancing family violence expertise across key court personnel, the report recommends integrating information about safety into routinely accessed documents in order to raise awareness about available services.



Publication details

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


Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law University of Technology Sydney

Faculty of Law University of Technology Sydney

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law University of Technology Sydney


ISBN: 978-1-925925-65-4 (print) | 978-1-925925-66-1 (online)

122 pp.


Suggested citation

Wangmann, J., Booth, T., & Kaye, M. (2020). “No straight lines”: Self-represented litigants in family law proceedings involving allegations about family violence (Research report, 24/2020). Sydney: ANROWS.

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