Domestic violence affects men, women, children, and wider family members in a terribly damaging way.
Around one in three women experience physical violence in a relationship after the age of 15. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
About one in 16 men also experience violence from their partner in a relationship.
Domestic violence is generally understood as harmful or violent abuse of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and even financial nature by a family member or parties to a close relationship.
Recent statistics suggest the Covid pandemic has helped exacerbate levels of domestic violence in Australia, as confinement close to home combined with the pressures of job loss and other financial constraints have created a fertile environment for abusive behavior.
A domestic violence order is one means by which the police and the law try to deal with incidences of domestic violence in Australia. A domestic violence order (or DVO, as it is known in Queensland) is designed to provide protection to the person alleging they have been abused by restricting the ways in which the abuser – or respondent – can contact the aggrieved person.
This type of order is known by different names in Australia’s states and territories.
- In Queensland this protective order is known as a Domestic Violence Order;
- in NSW it is referred to as an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO);
- in Victoria, a protective order is a Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO);
- in South Australia, it is an Intervention Order (IO);
- in Western Australia, it is known as a Violence Restraining Order (VRO);
- In Tasmania, it is a Family Violence Order (FVO) or Police Family Violence Order (PVFO);
- in the ACT, it is a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVO);
- In the Northern Territory, it is known as a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVO).
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How do DVOs work?
Filling out the relevant form: When a person wishes to take out a DVO against another person, they will generally visit a police station and be asked to fill out a form. This form can also be completed online or from a magistrates court.
The form needs to include details of when, where, and what type of domestic violence occurred (physical, verbal, etc). It’s important to be as specific as possible about the details of the alleged abuse – accuracy in reporting dates, times and the sequence of events helps those who approve the DVO come to a conclusion about its necessity.
Additional information can be attached to the form if it does not provide enough space to include all the necessary detail.
Supporting evidence such as text messages between the parties which demonstrate the abusive behaviour alleged may also be included with the application.
Police can also make a DVO application on behalf of a person in need of a protective order.
Ensuring the form meets necessary formalities: The last page of the DVO application form will include a statutory declaration which must be signed and witnessed in front of a Justice of the Peace (JP) or Commissioner for Declarations (CDec).
The application must then be filed at the nearest Magistrates Court in person or by post.
Police will generally provide the respondent with a copy of the DVO application once it has been signed and witnessed.
How the DVO is made: The court will set a date for a ‘mention’ of the DVO applied for.
Depending on whether there is a real risk of family domestic violence, both the aggrieved and the respondent can attend court for the mention and agree to the conditions of the DVO.
In this situation, the court can then make the order by ‘consent without admission’, meaning that the person the order seeks to restrict agrees to its conditions but makes no admission that the alleged incident or incidents of domestic violence took place.
Despite the lack of admission, if the person subsequently breaches the conditions of the order, it is a criminal offense.
In many other situations, a respondent will not agree to the imposition of a CVO. In these cases, the court can make a temporary protection order (also known in other states as an interim order) that will stay in place until a final hearing at which both parties can make their case for why the DVO should be granted or denied.
A magistrate can make a temporary protection order even when the respondent – the person who will need to comply with its conditions – does not know that the other party has applied for a DVO. To do so, the magistrate must be satisfied there has been an act of domestic violence and there is a relevant relationship between the aggrieved person and the respondent.
Final Protection Orders: In Queensland, a final protection order generally lasts for five years and will be made if the respondent agrees to the order being made; if the respondent doesn’t turn up or participate in the court process after being served; or after a contested hearing in a court. The length of the protective order varies in other states and territories.
If a person is convicted of a domestic violence offense after charges are brought by police, a magistrate may make a DVO against the person even if no application has been made by the victim of the violence.
To do so the court must be satisfied the people involved had a relationship covered by the law, that an act of domestic violence has occurred, and that a DVO is necessary or desirable to protect the aggrieved.
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Sometimes a DVO may already be in place when the new offense occurred, in which case the magistrate may change the existing order by including extra conditions or by changing the length of the order to protect the other party.
Some of the Typical conditions of a Protection Order
When a person is named in a protection order such as a DVO, AVO, or FVIO, a given condition is that they must maintain good behaviour and not commit further acts of domestic violence against the protected person, their children or any other people named within the order.
The automatic conditions vary from state to state, though are similar. In NSW, for instance, an AVO will always include the following three prohibitions on the respondent:
- Assaulting or threatening the protected person;
- stalking, harassing, or intimidating the protected person;
- intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging any property that belongs to, or is with, the protected person.
A range of other conditions can be included on a protection order, at the request of the person who has been abused or feels threatened. These can include:
- Preventing the person who is the subject of the order from going to where the other person or persons live or work, or within a certain distance of those places;
- preventing the person from living with the aggrieved;
- preventing the person from locating the other person by contacting family, friends or a place where they are staying, such as a hostel or shelter;
- giving the aggrieved access to a house lived in by the respondent so that they can access their belongings (sometimes called a ‘property recovery order’);
- preventing the person from behaving in certain ways in relation to children;
- preventing the person from attending places children also attend, such as school or kindy;
- preventing the person from contact with the aggrieved person or others named in the order – this means the respondent cannot make contact by phone call, text message, letter, or visit.
Other conditions can also be part of the order.
Despite incidents of domestic violence, a person applying for a protective order may still want children to spend time and maintain a relationship with the other parent.
The conditions of protective orders can also be varied by application to the court if circumstances change between the parties.
What happens if a Protective Order is Breached?
Protective orders such as DVOs and AVOs are court orders. Doing something not permitted under the conditions of the order is a criminal offense, punishable by large fines and/or terms of imprisonment.
A person whose actions are restricted by a protective order does not gain a criminal record by the making of the order.
Once a protective order is made, the protected person should keep a copy of it with them and provide a copy of it to a child’s kindy or school.
Police should be called if the protected person observes the other person breaching any of the conditions listed in the order, and keep an accurate record of any texts, calls, or the like made by the person who is the subject of the order.
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How Parenting Orders Work with Protective Orders
The fact one parent becomes the subject of a protective order such as a DVO or AVO does not automatically mean that parent is unable to see their children.
In some jurisdictions where there is an existing parenting order in place before a protective order is made, the parenting order takes precedence if there are inconsistencies between the two orders.
If there is an allegation or evidence of serious family violence, however, the Court may make an order that the offending parent can only spend time with their children under supervision (by another family member, for example, or at an agreed location) or not at all.
In other situations where parenting orders between the parents are in place and the children are judged to be of minimal risk of serious violence, a continuing meaningful relationship with the parent who is subject to a protective order is considered to be in the children’s ‘best interest’.
If parenting orders are applied for after a DVO or AVO is made against one of the parents, the Court must be made aware of the protective order. If it then makes a parenting order that is inconsistent with the protective order, the Court must state which part/s are different and explain exactly the conditions under which the children will spend time with the respondent.
Seek legal advice if unsure
Advice from expert family law specialists can be essential when applying for protective orders, particularly where there are also parenting orders in place or parenting orders being applied for.
Mediations Australia can assist people in this difficult situation. Mediation and other forms of dispute resolution such as conciliation can be useful means for parents to work out arrangements for children to have contact with both parents, particularly where one parent’s contact is restricted by a protective order.
What Should You Do Now?
At Mediations Australia, we have a team of family lawyers and mediators who can assist you in Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, and all other locations in Australia. We also do international family law matters.