So far today police in Australia would have dealt with on average 502 domestic violence matters.
When Jessica’s husband abandoned her and their three children, he moved interstate and became uncontactable — but kept spending on the family credit card.
It left Jessica to raise their three children on Centrelink payments while debt collectors knocked at her door.
“The amount of things he was [charging] to the credit card was just way too much,” she said.
“Sometimes he [would overdraw] the credit cards … and I was the one trying to [manage] the little budget [we had].”
Jessica had to navigate the complicated family law system to regain control over her finances.
Her story of economic abuse is not uncommon.
Another woman, Tara, was physically and emotionally abused while with her partner, and only received a small settlement sum when they split, because he was secretive about his income and finances.
No negotiations could take place for eight months, because he refused to make financial disclosures.
Jessica and Tara are two of 38 women who shared their stories in a report by the Women’s Legal Service Victoria, which investigated the experiences of women dealing with small property claims in the Family Court.
The report recommends the Federal Government amend the Family Law Act to allow courts to consider the effects of family violence when deciding how much each party should pay.
“One of the things that former partners might do is perpetuate the abuse to their partner by saying, ‘No I’m not going to give you any information that will help us resolve these financial matters, I don’t care if you’re left with that debt, I don’t care if you’re left with nothing’,” the service’s legal director Helen Matthews said.
“There are examples where the former partner has emptied the bank account, so whatever debts might have been paid out of that bank account, that’s no longer happening.
“There are circumstances where people will allow the mortgage to go unpaid so that asset is diminishing in its value.”
The Federal Government said it would consider the recommendations, and that the Australian Law Reform Commission was already considering changes to the family law system.
It said several of the proposals in the legal services’ report were examined in a recent parliamentary inquiry report.
“The Government recognises the particular challenges that can be faced by vulnerable women and is committed to ensuring equitable outcomes in the family law system,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement.
He said the Government had also boosted funding for family advocacy support centres and domestic violence units, and for family courts to engage more consultants.
The Women’s Legal Service’s report makes a range of other recommendations, including that court processes be streamlined to help vulnerable women avoid further economic hardship at the hands of partners.
“These women are only going to be assisted if they have access to a legal process,” Ms Matthews said.
“We’ve been fairly careful not to get into the nitty gritty of how things should work, but (we’re) really inviting government to have a look at where the needs are, so they investigate … to see what changes can be made,” she said.
Read More: ABC News
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