As family lawyers we regularly work with clients experiencing family violence, whether it involves physical, emotional or financial abuse, ensuring our clients are aware of the steps they can take through the police and courts, and how they can leave a relationship with their rights intact and assets protected.
In recent times, there has been much more attention given to emotional and financial or economic abuse, not just physical abuse, although it’s recognised that the types of abuse are often seen together. In 2011, the definition of family violence in the Family Law Act was expanded to incorporate notions of coercion and control. So far Australia has stopped short of criminalising coercive abuse, though there is debate over whether we should follow the UK’s example, where coercive abuse was criminalised under their Serious Crimes Act in 2015.
With emotional and coercive abuse, it is common for people experiencing the abuse to be subjected to threats, humiliation, bullying and gaslighting, or they may be prevented from making their own decisions, isolated from seeing friends and family, or have their movements monitored.
Another area receiving increasing attention is financial abuse – where an abuser tries to control a victim’s finances and financial decision-making processes. They may try to deny their partner financial independence through controlling bank accounts, threatening to withhold financial support for living expenses, or coercing someone to relinquish control over their assets or income. Lacking financial power, victims often feel trapped in their situation, exacerbating their predicament.
It’s also hoped that the current process of reform of Australia’s family law system will see a change in the law so that financial abuse is considered as a form of family violence that can justify an adjustment to be made in a property settlement.
In the meantime, it’s recommended that people experiencing family violence start court proceedings early. With an urgent application, it’s possible to get an injunction to stop someone moving assets or spending joint funds within weeks (please call us here at Alliance Legal Services to discuss your options).
Other steps people should take are ensuring they have a will in place so that their assets pass to the right people and an abuser does not stand to inherit under the rules of intestacy (the condition of the estate of a person who dies without a will in place). If parties were married, the spouse will typically be the main beneficiary under the rules of intestacy. Creating a will which protects a victim’s wishes and their ownership of property and assets is therefore crucial, even if it is only regarded as an interim measure until a divorce is finalised.
Your legal will is one of the most important documents you will ever sign. It lays out your wishes, to be put into effect after you have passed. It will create peace of mind for you, and will give certainty and comfort to your family and beneficiaries. A legal will is the best way to ensure your hard-earned property and other assets end up with the people you want to have them.
The creation of powers of attorney covering property, finance, health and welfare is also vital. A power of attorney is a legal document allowing you to appoint a person (or persons) who you want to make decisions about financial matters for you, including dealing with your income or assets if for whatever reason you are no longer able to do so yourself. For example, a power of attorney will allow you to appoint the people you want to make decisions about your medical treatment if you become mentally or physically incapable of deciding for yourself.
These documents can be said to start immediately, or can be triggered by an event (e.g. your doctor reports that you are incapacitated). They are useful documents to have so that in an emergency, there need not be a delay in getting funds to pay for medical expenses, or making an important medical decisions for you, in accordance with your wishes.
At Alliance Legal Services, we take a holistic approach to your matter, so that you are fully aware of all the steps you need to take with regard to police involvement and the court system, as well as the matters mentioned above, to ensure you are protected on every level. Once you have chosen to take a legal course of action, we can help you with separation, divorce, custody arrangements for your children, or property settlements, as well as supporting you with any related criminal law or other legal matters through our network of referral companies.
If you need help with a matter involving family violence, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.
For more information on wills, visit the ACT Law Society’s wills information page.