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Information for migrant women experiencing family violence in Victoria

This information has been developed by Northern Community Legal Centre (NCLC) to ensure that every woman residing in Victoria understands her rights, and how the law can provide protection for her and any children she may have.

Family violence in Australia

Family violence, also known as domestic violence, is a pattern of behaviour where one person (a family member or partner) tries to dominate and control another.

If you are experiencing family violence, you are not alone. One in four Australian women has experienced violence and abuse by a current or former partner. While family violence is common across families from all different backgrounds, women who have migrated to Australia may be particularly vulnerable due to language barriers and isolation, or because they’re not aware of the laws and services that can assist and protect them. They may also have worries about what will happen to their visa if they leave the relationship.

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What are my rights in Victoria?

If you are on a partner visa and experiencing family violence, you and your children may still be able to stay in Australia, even if you leave the relationship.

In Victoria, you and your children have the right to live free from all types of violence, including:​

  • Physical abuse (hitting, pushing, choking, using weapons or not letting you sleep, eat or take medication);

  • Sexual violence (sexual acts which you do not want or agree to);

  • Threats (telling you that you will lose the children if you leave, or threatening to harm a pet or other person if you do not comply);

  • Not having control of your money, being forced into debt, not having enough money for essential things, or in some cultures being forced to pay more dowry;

  • Not being allowed to see friends or family;

  • Being constantly verbally abused or bullied; and

  • Being made to feel afraid for your safety, or your children’s safety, in any way.

You cannot be forced into a relationship or marriage that you do not want to be in and you have the right to make your own decisions about birth control, having or not having a child, and accessing the medical support of your choosing.

Family violence may be directed at you, your children, your pets or your property. It may be committed by any family member including a partner, ex-partner or other family member, such as an in-law. Family violence is unacceptable in all its forms, regardless of who is committing the violence.

What are the effects of family violence?

When living with violence you might be feeling constant anxiety, never being sure of what will happen next. You may find yourself trying to manage your partner’s behaviour as it swings from anger and abuse to guilty promises and regret. Over time, the constant worry that comes from living with their controlling behaviours can impact upon self-esteem and confidence, as well as physical health, relationships with family and friends, financial health, employment and parenting.

Sometimes, reaching out for help can become harder over time as you become less confident in your ability to act and live independently. You might blame yourself for the situation or ignore the abuse in the hope that things will change. It is common to feel trapped by shame and a sense that no one will understand your situation.

Children are also affected by family violence, whether they experience it directly or see or hear it expressed against a parent or sibling. This can influence their future relationships, their capacity to trust adults and their own ways of dealing with conflict. Family violence leaves children feeling confused, angry, sad and frightened. How this is expressed depends upon the age of the child and their stage of development.

Legal Services and Family Violence Services can help you and your children access support and recover from your experiences of abuse. Many women do not want the relationship to end – they just want the violence to stop. Whether you choose to stay in the relationship or leave it, there are steps that can be taken to improve safety.

How can a lawyer assist?

Finding out about the law and how a lawyer can assist you is the first step in creating a safer home for you and your children. NCLC lawyers understand that talking about family violence is very brave and sometimes also risky. They also understand that you may not be ready to decide what you want to do – and that is okay. The most important thing is that you have all the information you need to help inform your decision-making now, and in the future.

You can make an appointment to see a lawyer just to discuss your situation and to find out what could be done. Everything you tell the lawyer is confidential; they will not talk to any other person about your situation without your permission. They will also not pressure you to make any changes until you are ready.

  • Family violence intervention orders
    A family violence intervention order is an order of protection from the court that says the person of concern must not commit family violence. Not complying with the order is a criminal offence, and the police will act if the other person does not comply. An NCLC lawyer will help you work out the conditions you need included in the order, and whether children or other family members also need to be included. Conditions can include: The person of concern must not damage your property; They must not track your movements; They cannot comment about you on social media or by email; They cannot contact you or communicate in other ways; They must stay a certain distance away; They must stay away from your workplace, school and/or home; They cannot ask another person to do the things prohibited in the order; and They must return your property. The lawyer can also help you work out further specific conditions, such as allowing the person of concern to be able to talk or spend time with the children at specific times, whilst staying away at other times. Family violence intervention orders are usually granted for a specific period – twelve months, for example. At the end of this period, you can request for the order to be extended by applying to the court, or to vary the order if things have changed. For example, if you decide you want the person living in the house with you again, you might vary the order to remove the condition that they stay away.
  • Assistance with migration issues
    The NCLC migration lawyer can determine what visa you are on, and what pathways are available for you to safely remain in Australia. If you are on a partner visa and are experiencing family violence, there are specific family violence provisions that allow you to apply for residency.
  • Child arrangements
    When a relationship ends, the law says that parents must try to agree on arrangements for their children, thinking about what is best for them. If parents agree, they can put this in writing and a court will make it into legally enforceable consent orders. If parents cannot agree, they may have to try mediation – a conference where an independent person will help both parents to work through the issues and come to an agreement. If mediation does not work, a person can apply to the family law courts to make what are called 'parenting orders'. The court always puts the children’s best interests first. The NCLC lawyer can help you work out arrangements for children spending time with each parent, and support you through the process of mediation.
  • Your rights to property
    The NCLC lawyer can give you some initial advice about dividing any property. They may refer you to a private lawyer for further assistance.
  • Your rights to financial support
    The lawyer can advise you on whether you are entitled to receive ongoing financial support from your ex-partner following separation. This is called ‘spousal maintenance’. Financial support for your child/children is known as ‘child support’.
  • Victims of Crime Assistance
    Victims of Crime Assistance is available to a person who has had a violent crime committed against them in Victoria, leading to either physical injury or mental harm. Other people who have been affected, such as children, may also be eligible for assistance. This assistance may include covering: Counselling expenses; Medical expenses; Replacement of damaged items; Safety-related expenses (such as improved home security); Funeral expenses; Loss of income; Special financial assistance; and Other expenses that will assist recovery. The NCLC lawyer can advise you on whether you are likely to be eligible for assistance, and then how to prepare your application.
  • Assistance with rental accommodation
    The NCLC lawyer can help you to change your renting arrangements as needed if the violent family member is leaving the rental home and their name is on the lease.
  • Fines and debt
    In some situations, the NCLC lawyer might be able to get fines or debt waived or reduced if you are experiencing family violence.
  • How to make an appointment
    To make an appointment to speak to an NCLC lawyer, you can either: Telephone us on (03) 9310 4376 (call 131 450 if you need a telephone interpreter) Email us at admin@northernclc.org.au Before seeing a lawyer: Make sure you have some private space away from the abusive person to talk with the lawyer. If possible, organise for children to be minded by someone else. It is important that children do not overhear information that they might accidentally pass on to the other person. Gather any paperwork that is relevant to your situation, provided this can be done safely. The lawyer may ask you to email documents through to them. Write down a list of questions that you want to ask the lawyer to make sure you get all the information that you need. Have a pen and paper ready. The lawyer might suggest other services that can also help you. NCLC has both male and female lawyers available. If you feel more comfortable with a female lawyer, this can be requested.

 

Who else can assist?

 

Police

Victoria police should be contacted in a crisis situation where you are worried about the immediate safety of yourself, your children or another family member.

 

There are specific rules about how the police should help, including:

  • They should use an interpreter if needed;

  • They should listen to everyone involved about what has happened;

  • They should talk to you privately without the abusive person hearing to learn about your concerns and what has happened in the past;

  • If required, they may issue a safety notice for the person of concern to stay away until the court decides what is needed to keep you safe (see information about family violence intervention orders);

  • They may arrest the person if they think a crime has been committed, such as physical or sexual violence; and

  • They may give you information about family violence services that can provide additional assistance.

If you contact the police and are not happy with their response, an NCLC lawyer can help you make a complaint, or advocate for the police to take the required actions.

To contact the police, dial 000.

Family violence services

A family violence service may provide a range of services, including:

  • Emergency accommodation and assistance to access longer-term housing;

  • Referral to counselling;

  • Access to financial assistance packages;

  • Parenting support;

  • Mental health support for children; and

  • Access to food and essential items.

If you are staying in a relationship where your partner is abusive, a family violence service will also help you develop a safety plan. A safety plan involves thinking in advance about what you will need and what steps to take the next time you are in danger, to keep yourself and any children safe from harm.

To contact family violence service The Orange Door, visit www.orangedoor.vic.gov.au/contact

Programs for men who use violence

The most significant step that can be taken to enhance your safety is for the abusive person to change their behavior and stop using violence. This requires commitment to a program, which can be included in a family violence intervention order.

The aims of the Men’s Behaviour Change Program are to get men to:

  • Stop using abusive, violent and controlling behaviour;

  • Accept full responsibility for their behaviour;

  • Manage their intense feelings safely; and

  • Develop and maintain nurturing and caring relationships with women and children.

To contact Men’s Referral Service, dial 1300 766 491.

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