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Specialist knowledge across sectors – Women’s Legal Service Victoria

Specialist knowledge across sectors – Women’s Legal Service Victoria

A smiling mother with her young teenaged daughter embracing her from behind. In the background there is a complex woven piece of art.

This article features in the December 2018 edition of DVRCV Advocate.

We spoke to Domestic Violence Victoria, Women’s Legal Service Victoria and inTouch about their specialist expertise, why it’s important to embed specialisation in the system and how it could look in future.

Women’s Legal Service Victoria

The legal needs of a family violence victim survivor must be an integral part of the system’s response to her. Despite acknowledgment by the Royal Commission into Family Violence of this specialist need, the need is not being met. Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) continues to advocate for the prioritisation of legal service provision to family violence victim survivors as well as changes to overcome existing systemic barriers. We also push for inter-professional training for both legal and family violence practitioners.

Women experiencing family violence often face multiple legal matters in different courts, State and Federal, and under various pieces of complex legislation. If legal issues are not dealt with promptly and appropriately, the impact on the safety and wellbeing of women and their children can be profound. Conversely, rushing into legal proceedings or arrangements can create problems. Ill-informed advice can do more harm than good. 

Family law – parenting and family violence

Family violence victim survivors are often parents and parenting issues are a family law matter. The family law system is complex. While the legislation recognises family violence and the need to prioritise safety, in practice, particular expertise is required to ensure safe outcomes and to identify when the safest option is, in fact, choosing not to engage the family law system. For vulnerable and disadvantaged women in particular, advice is insufficient. They require their legal representatives to understand both the legal framework and the reality of family violence. WLSV has developed that expertise.

Family law – property and family violence

Housing, economic security and debt management are major factors in recovery from family violence. These issues may be addressed through the family law system with support and legal representation. Many victim survivors say there is no property to claim but a court can, for example, order the transfer of superannuation accrued by her former partner. Family law orders can secure home occupation or relocation, can freeze an economic abuser’s access to bank accounts and mortgage redraws. WLSV is one of the few services which provides legal representation in these matters to women. WLSV also provides debt related and housing assistance through our in-house financial counsellor and social worker.

Child protection and family violence

Family violence victim survivors can be inappropriately penalised in the child protection system. The consequences of the perpetrator’s actions are too often borne by the woman and her children with them being removed from the home to manage the risk of recurrence. Women are most at risk when they leave the relationship, so managing family violence risk can mean women delay that separation. Children are often removed from their mother’s care when she is wrongly assessed as ‘not acting protectively’. WLSV lawyers respond to this misguided thinking in their duty lawyer work and legal representation of women in child protection matters. Few lawyers are able to practice across the legal practice areas of family violence, family law and child protection.

Family violence workers and legal referral

WLSV’s Critical Legal Issues Map helps family violence practitioners identify and respond to victim survivors’ legal needs. With training, the map enables practitioners to:

  • Identify legal issues requiring immediate attention
  • Prioritise legal issues to prevent a crisis
  • Make timely and appropriate referrals to lawyers and other services
  • Prepare clients for court and meeting with their lawyer

Informed use of the map supports women to navigate the complexities of the legal system.

Specialisation and family violence

Specialist accreditation is available in legal areas relevant to the experience of family violence including family law, children’s law and immigration law. Family violence is not an area of legal specialisation. Relationship building between legal service providers and family violence services is necessary to ensure women are connected with family violence informed lawyers with competence and experience in the relevant areas of law.

WLSV advocates for compulsory family violence training to be included in the professional development of those working in the justice system, particularly in our own practice areas of family law and child protection. Gaining acceptance of this in the legal profession will take time.

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This article features in the December 2018 edition of The Advocate. Download article (PDF)