Family violence legal support demand on the rise

Peninsula Community Legal Centre chief executive Jackie Galloway. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Matthew Sims

The Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) is calling for more funding for the family violence legal sector as close to 60 per cent of clients are experiencing family violence, with the centre struggling to keep up with demand.

PCLC chief executive Jackie Galloway said there were record numbers of women requiring legal support on safety, family law and housing issues on the back of rising numbers of family violence across the country.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Ms Galloway said PCLC offers a range of services, 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,” she said.

“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.

“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.

Ms Galloway said this led to “extremely complex” legal proceedings across other 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,” she said.

“Our lawyers are often involved for years in helping women through the legal system.

“Many violent ex-partners use the legal system to continue the abuse by initiating false family violence claims against the victim-survivor.

With data indicating 80 per cent of family law cases involve family violence, Ms Galloway said more reform needs to take place.

“Recent changes to the family law system have made it fairer and more accessible for women trying to escape family violence,” she said.

“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.”

Ms Galloway said the industry still requires a “massive injection” of funding and long-term funding agreements.

“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,” she 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.”