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Family Law and Homelessness Dr Elspeth McInnes AM Homelessness Conference Brisbane September 3 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "Family Law and Homelessness Dr Elspeth McInnes AM Homelessness Conference Brisbane September 3 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 Family Law and Homelessness Dr Elspeth McInnes AM Homelessness Conference Brisbane September

2 Overview This paper examines the nexus between family law and homelessness in Australia. It makes the following argument: Domestic violence is a driver of relationship breakdown, particularly when there are young children. Relationship breakdown and domestic violence are significant drivers of homelessness. Family law reforms in 2006 emphasising shared parenting have resulted in increased continuing contact between domestic violence perpetrators and their ex- partners and children.

3 Housing and Homelessness Problems The continuing risk of violence for victims caught up in the family law system contributes to homelessness outcomes in a number of ways including: Repeated forced moves to escape stalking behaviour and abuse by ex- partner Having to live in supported accommodation to escape continuing abuse Living in hiding to prevent further abuse Prevention by courts of relocation to better circumstances elsewhere Courts requiring victims who have relocated to return and live in proximity Perpetrators using DV laws to present as victims of the victim and have the victim excluded from the home Property theft and damage Perpetrators controlling the terms of property settlement

4 Domestic Violence in Australia One in four Australian women report experiencing domestic violence and ex- partners are the group identified as the most common perpetrators of violence against women (ABS ; Mouzos & Makkai 2004). One in four Australian children has witnessed violence against their mother by a father- figure (Indermaur 2001).

5 Children’s Experience Children who have become homeless due to domestic violence and relationship breakdown have to deal with: Their history of exposure to violence against their mother and themselves and other family members Loss of home, possessions, pets Loss of routines and contact with known people and services such as school, childcare, neighbours, family GP The demands and distractions on their protective parents and its impact on their parenting The likelihood of continuing contact with the perpetrator and consequent lack of safety under family law shared parenting rules Children’s development does not wait while their lives are made safe and re-established.

6 Statistics of Risk to Children Melbourne Age July : Of 16 deaths reviewed by the Victorian Child Death Review Committee, April March 2010, 11 (69%) involved children under 3. The Committee reviews deaths of children known to child protection services. Parental substance abuse and domestic violence were risk factors in 62 per cent of cases, and family mental illness and homelessness presented in almost half of the deaths (Willingham 2010).

7 Demand for government-funded specialist homelessness accommodation : a report from the SAAP National Data Collection (AIHW 2010). The most likely group to be turned away from accommodation services were family groups. An average of 80% of couples with children, 75% of couples without children and 69% of individuals with children who requested new and immediate accommodation were turned away each day, compared with 50% of individuals without children. People aged 20 or less comprised 56% of valid requests for immediate accommodation.

8 2004 AIHW report ‘Children accompanying homeless adults ’ 88% of accompanying children were aged under 12. ‘Children accompanying clients who presented due to domestic violence had the majority of accompanying child support periods (39,700, or 67%). ‘The proportion of support periods where clients were living alone with their children increased from 32% before support to 50% after support. This change was influenced by the high proportion of female clients with children who presented due to domestic violence.

9 Links These data show that domestic violence, parental separation and homelessness are strongly linked. Next section reports on data from a study into family violence and family law experiences of families who separated post 1995 and post 2006 with a particular focus on housing and homelessness outcomes.

10 Research Report Bagshaw, D., Brown, T., Wendt, S., Campbell, A., McInnes, E., Tinning, B., Batagol, B., Sifris, A., Tyson, D., Baker, J., Fernandez Arias, P Family Violence and Family Law in Australia: The Experiences and Views of Children and Adults from Families who Separated Post and Post-2006, Attorney-General’s Department, Canberra. s_FamilyRelationshipServicesOverviewofPrograms_Res earchProjectsonSharedCareParentingandFamilyViolenc e s_FamilyRelationshipServicesOverviewofPrograms_Res earchProjectsonSharedCareParentingandFamilyViolenc e

11 Research Question What was the impact of a presence or history of family violence on decisions separating people make when (1) Accessing Dispute Resolution Services and Courts? (2) While using Dispute Resolutions Services and Courts? (3) The impact of a presence/history of family violence on post separation parenting from an adult and a child’s perspective

12 Data Collection Data was collected from on-line national surveys of adults and of children A telephone call back to a small sample of those adults A phone in for adults and children based in South Australia and another based in Queensland

13 Respondents Total 1136 : 913 adults children on line surveys, 106 adults + 12 children from phone ins (1,019 adults/117 children) Respondents came from all states, with diverse ethnicity and Australian and overseas places of birth approx 3 Women : 1 Man gender ratio 85% of women reported family violence, compared to 56% of men

14 Data from adult online survey Survey Question: Has violence had an impact on your post- separation parenting arrangements? 902 responses -232 (25.7%) men and 670 from women. Of men’s responses 121 (52.2%) said violence had an impact on their post-separation parenting arrangements Of women’s responses (68.7%) said violence had an impact on their post-separation parenting arrangements. 588 respondents provided further detail about the impact. The selected responses focus on housing impacts of violence. Primarily women reported housing problems.

15 Stalking making housing unsafe He stalks, harasses, assaults and has sexually assaulted myself. We (mother & child)have received no help from Police. We are both in fear of this man but police keep informing him of our location. F He was raping the children. The Family Court gave him my address on the divorce papers and he found us and harassed us. F Arrangements were made for him to collect my son from my parents’ house but he would still drive past my house with my son in his car and make a big joke of it despite having a protection order. A Relationships Australia counsellor told me this was emotional grounding for him.F His violence has affected where I live - not near him – and who I live with - for security I cannot live alone.F Ex has physically assaulted me on one occasion & also made threats to stop me seeing our child, both witnessed by our young child. I don't park in her driveway anymore and don't allow her in my home. M

16 Prevention of Relocation The violence has been worse since I left and he has used the family court orders to keep me close to where he lives. When I did move, both to get away from his harassments and so I could give my youngest child a home and family like my other 4 children, the family court disregarded the violence and granted my remaining children to my ex and his wife. F

17 Forced Return We escaped domestic violence whereby my ex told my children that he was going to hang their mother (me) if I left him.... After we escaped I took the children home. They were both born in NZ. I had an agreement with the father that we could return home to NZ if the marriage didn’t work out. We were married less than a year...But the father claimed I had abducted his child (the other child was from a NZ father) so after ten months of living at home in Auckland the father won the right to have us forced to Brisbane (he lives in Melbourne) onto the street, with no money and nowhere to live in Brisbane. We arrived here with $100. The Australian Government brought us here and did not assist us in any way. They did not get us a house and the only help Centrelink gave us was $120 that had to last me 2 weeks. F

18 Using Exclusion Orders I took my children on a holiday in January When I returned, I was served with an AVO by police. I had never been in trouble with the law, went & saw the police, they offered me no support. I had no knowledge of AVOs or what to do. A few days later, he breached me when he pulled a knife on me and staged that I was trying to stab him. The police threw me out of my own home. My ex rushed through an urgent interim custody case. I lost custody of my children until June 2005 when shared parenting settlement was reached. F My ex made false allegations and an AVO was taken out by my ex to separate myself and my young boys and remove me from the house. M

19 Emergency Accommodation Because of fear of continuing violence, I fled with children to a refuge and was able "at that time" to refuse access of the children to their father until there was something legal in writing to ensure custody and access issues reflected safety for the children.F I did not see my children (daughter was 14 & son was 12 ) when I left the marital home and went to a women's shelter. I didn't see them for 3 years until my daughter contacted me. My Ex is highly manipulative and made it impossible for me to have contact with the children until he re-married. F

20 Running and Hiding I have had to keep moving. I have been threatened that he would take the children on an access visit if I don't see him. Every time I moved he found us again due to the law saying I had to allow visits Since 2000 and since final orders giving me sole long term care and welfare rights of my child there have been incidents of violence and refusal to pay child support... in effect will not let go so I live in hiding. I felt I had to remove my children from this situation. He has not seen the children since we moved -nor has he sought court intervention to do so. I had to sell my home and move to a new location to escape continued harassment by friend of the EX and the EX that continued after the separation was finalised. I spent 12 months fighting custody in court. Decision ruled in my favour with no access orders. Since then, the ex has not seen his daughter and I have spent over a decade hiding.

21 Property Theft and Damage Threats were made to take the children out of country, turn them against me, and injure me and damage my property if I continued with my fulltime caring role with children and if I pursued child support. Damage was done to my car when I challenged this. F ex- stealing my car and personal belongings by using children to open garage, and entering my property without my knowledge; not returning children after the school holidays. F Financial and personal records stolen, assaulted without witness, property vandalised, personal property stolen whilst at work, collusion on AVO against me and livestock stolen. M My ex came around damaging my property and threatening to kill me after I got custody of our daughter, and continued to abuse our daughter on access visits. As a result I was forced back into court to vary the access orders so she was only allowed supervised access. M

22 Control of Property & Finances EX financially holds the mortgage over the house my child and I live in and is now refusing our agreed settlement to sell our other property to pay off our mortgage debts. Child and I now face homelessness due to EX controlling our financial and child custody situation 4yrs after separation. F After our son died, he cheated and ended our marriage and forced us from our new home. He always threatens to take the kids for when I don't give him his own way. F I was stalked at night, yelled and screamed at as he drove by, intimidated when he demanded to come and go to the family property at his leisure. Our final property settlement and child access issues have taken a long time to sort, due to me feeling threatened that in his emotive state he also would do something, either suicide (which he had threatened), harm the children and/or myself He holds the property settlement over my head as a leverage, saying he won't have the children more often or let me know what his intentions are for school holidays, etc., or assist with their school fees, until I sort the property settlement out. It is about to be finalized at last.F

23 Hostage to Property Fear of mental violence has kept me from making a property settlement. F Ex used settlement of property issues as a manipulation/blackmail tool to force me to give him more time with our daughter. F My ex would not agree to me leaving the former matrimonial home with the children unless I agreed to a 50/50 property settlement (and I have 5 children living with me). F Property settlement looks like it will be a sham - as he re-drew the cost of the house on the mortgage, and has no thoughts on paying it back, and I cannot afford to pay for legal assistance. F

24 Gender Differences Men were much less likely than women to report physical assaults against them. Men were more likely to report effective action to protect themselves – “ I don't allow her in my home.” “I was forced back into court to vary the access orders so she was only allowed supervised access. “ Unlike women, men were not restricted in their movements and choice of housing location as non-resident parents. Unlike women, men did not report having to go into hiding or seek emergency accommodation. Unlike women, men did not report their ex controlling partnership finances and using them to extract leverage.

25 Concluding Points The current family law system contributes to homelessness outcomes amongst separating parents – particularly mothers with violent and abusive ex-partners. The push for increased shared parenting arrangements has the following impacts: Restricts mothers’ capacity to move away from stalking and harassment; Prevents mothers from moving to better living locations and housing; Forces mothers who move to be near supports to go back; Forces mothers into emergency accommodation for safety; Induces mothers to escape into hiding and constant moves; Exposes them to property theft and damage; Allows abusive partners to control mortgage and property and spend partnership funds and use financial control as leverage against mothers


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