One of the most distressing things a family lawyer has to deal with – and this goes for social workers, psychologists, doctors, and anyone else in the helping professions – is when there is violence in a relationship. Violence is never acceptable or excusable. Unfortunately it’s too often a cause, and an effect, of marriage and relationship breakdowns.
If a person or their children suffer violence or are exposed to it or in fear of it, they can apply to the police for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order – better known as an AVO. These are court orders that prohibit one person from being violent or intimidating to another. They give a person protection by guaranteeing their privacy, and by stopping the violent person from contacting them (or their children), or sometimes from entering their home.
Here’s how it works. After a person makes a complaint to the police about the violence, the police commence proceedings in a Local Court. (If the allegations are serious, the police can issue a Provisional AVO on the spot.) In court, the defendant – the person who is accused of the violence – either agrees to the AVO, or the matter goes to a hearing and the Magistrate decides whether the facts justify an AVO being imposed, which will usually be for a year or two. Sometimes the Magistrate doesn’t consider an AVO is justified and dismisses it. The family courts take AVOs seriously – but they make up their own mind on the effect and importance of violence in the relationship.
AVOs are a powerful weapon. They serve an excellent purpose in protecting people – mostly women and children – from the devastating effects of being exposed to violence.
But AVOs are sometimes taken out for the wrong reasons. The breakdown of relationships is often an emotional and difficult time, when people are anxious, and frequently argue over things like finances and access to children. There may be the temptation to go the police and complain about the other person’s behavior, and in the process exaggerate incidents and not tell the full story, branding the other person as being violent and at fault.
However such unfair and unjustified AVOs can come at a high price. They may complicate and prolong family court proceedings. They may destroy any chance of future cooperation with the other person, which hurts everyone, particularly the children.
So anyone involved in relationship breakdowns should think very carefully before involving the police in their dispute, and resorting to AVOs. It is better to steer well clear of them except if they are necessary for personal safety and protection. It’s much better to try to resolve family law issues fairly and equitably if you can.
Anyone served with an AVO should respond calmly and constructively. Don’t take matters into your own hands and do something you may regret. It’s a good idea to consult an experienced family lawyer to get advice as to how to proceed.