6.10.1 Family & Domestic Violence
DHS operates in a sensitive environment and must avoid, as far as possible, actions which could contribute to family and domestic violence.
On this page
- What is family & domestic violence?
- Family & domestic violence & action to obtain maintenance
- Identification of parents & carers at risk
- Management of cases
- Reporting threats of family & domestic violence
What is family & domestic violence?
Family and domestic violence is conduct that is violent, threatening, coercive or controlling, or intended to cause the family or household member to be fearful. Types of abusive behaviours that may be involved in family and domestic violence include:
- physical abuse, including direct assaults on the body, use of weapons, driving dangerously, destruction of property, abuse of pets in front of family members, assault of children, locking the victim out of the house, and sleep deprivation.
- sexual abuse, any form of forced sex or sexual degradation, such as sexual activity without consent, causing pain during sex, assaulting genitals, coercive sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, making the victim perform sexual acts unwillingly, criticising, or using sexually degrading insults.
- emotional abuse, blaming the victim for all problems in the relationship, constantly comparing the victim with others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth, sulking intended to manipulate, withdrawing all interest and engagement (e.g. weeks of silence).
- verbal abuse, continual 'put downs' and humiliation, either privately or publicly, with attacks following clear themes that focus on intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity as a parent and spouse.
- social abuse, such as ongoing rudeness to family and friends, moving to locations where the victim knows nobody, and forbidding or physically preventing the victim from going out and meeting people.
- economic abuse, such as complete control of all monies, no access to bank accounts, providing only an inadequate 'allowance', using any wages earned by the victim for household expenses while withholding their own income.
- spiritual abuse, such as denying access to ceremonies, land or family, preventing religious observance, forcing victims to do things against their beliefs, denigration of cultural background, or using religious teachings or cultural tradition as a reason for violence.
The definition of family and domestic violence is equally applicable to all of the following circumstances:
- past or current intimate relationships, including:
- carer, where care is provided to someone with a disability, medical condition or is frail aged,
- spousal relationships, irrespective of the gender, sex or sexuality of the parties and whether the relationship is of a sexual nature,
- family members, including elder abuse,
- relatives and guardians,
- children of an intimate partner,
- people who fall within Indigenous concepts of family, and
- people who fall within culturally recognised family groups.
Family & domestic violence & action to obtain maintenance
A parent who is separated who receives more than the base rate of FTB Part A for a child is required to take reasonable action to obtain maintenance from the other parent for that child. This does not apply to non-parent carers. This would usually mean applying for a child support assessment. However, a parent can seek a full or partial exemption from this requirement where there is a risk of family and domestic violence (see FA Guide 3.1.5).
DHS provides social work services for parents who are experiencing family and domestic violence. DHS social workers can arrange referrals to community services to meet the immediate and longer term needs of parents in matters such as accommodation, legal and family counselling, health, material assistance and training.
Identification of parents & carers at risk
DHS may identify parents at risk of family and domestic violence. If this occurs before a parent applies for a child support assessment, a full or partial exemption may be granted if necessary, and the parent will not need to apply for a child support assessment. Where the parent has already applied for a child support assessment, the social worker may provide an exemption, which allows the parent to either not proceed with their application, or to end the assessment where it has been accepted.
DHS officers are sometimes the first point of contact for people who are at risk of family and domestic violence. A person may openly state that they believe that they are at risk of family and domestic violence, or they may only imply that there is a risk.
Other organisations and third parties may contact DHS about parents or carers who are at risk of family and domestic violence as a result of taking action to obtain child support. DHS will provide information and appropriate referral options to them.
Although a person may be subject to, or at risk of, violence they may not perceive this to be the situation. It is necessary to be alert to a person's perception of their situation. Where the parent does not perceive a risk of violence it will usually be difficult for DHS to detect there is in fact a risk.
Management of cases
Where DHS identifies a person as being at risk of family and domestic violence and the circumstances of the situation may warrant increased security, their case will be referred to an authorised Restricted Access Customer System (RACS) Coordinator. If the case requires additional security, access to computer and paper file records will be in accordance with agency guidelines concerning restricted access. See 6.3.7 for more information.
DHS officers will not have the expertise to deal with many of the matters associated with family and domestic violence. Nor are they expected to have this expertise. However, people who are at risk of family and domestic violence need to be advised where they can get help.
DHS maintains a directory of organisations that offer this kind of specialised help. Such organisations include welfare agencies, Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres and local support groups. They also include those organisations that represent the interests of people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Where a person is identified as being at risk, administrative options should be discussed with them. This could include details and consequences of:
- Proceeding with an application
- Continuing collection
- Ending a child support assessment due to family and domestic violence
- Reviewing an exemption
Wherever possible, a person must make their own decision about whether and how to pursue collection of child support and DHS will support their decision.
DHS recognises that a person at risk may adopt one course of action for a period of time and may later adopt another course if the situation has changed, and DHS will provide them with all options and encourage them to discuss their case if their situation changes.
Proceeding with an application
During the initial discussion with an applicant for child support, an officer may become aware that the applicant may be at risk. The applicant should be advised that continuing with the application means that DHS will need to contact the other party to the assessment. If the applicant has concerns about that contact they can withdraw the application and apply for an exemption from the maintenance action test, if necessary. The applicant should be advised to reapply for child support if an exemption is not granted.
A payee may decide that they wish the assessment to continue and for the amounts payable to be collected by DHS.
In such cases, DHS will take particular care to manage the case in a sensitive and appropriate manner. Strategies to reduce the likelihood of violent behaviour and provide safety for the payee and the children should be adopted in consultation with the payee, e.g. advising the payee before commencement of enforcement action and before DHS contacts the payer to discuss liabilities and collection action. DHS may also refer the payee to other organisations for support.
If the payee decides they wish to privately collect their assessment, the potential consequences of such a decision should be discussed with the payee (see FA Guide 188.8.131.52).
Ending a child support assessment due to family & domestic violence
A payee who does not receive more than the base rate of FTB Part A can elect to end their child support assessment. The Registrar will end the case and advise the payee they can reapply for a child support assessment at any time in the future (CSA Act section 151).
Generally, elections to end an assessment where the payee receives more than the base rate of FTB Part A will not be approved. However, if a payee who receives more than the base rate of FTB Part A is considered to be at risk of family and domestic violence, DHS will put them in contact with a social worker for a risk assessment. If the payee is assessed as at risk of family and domestic violence, and they have not already made an election to end their assessment, DHS will invite them to make an election ( 2.10.2). The Registrar cannot accept the payee's election to end the assessment unless the Secretary approves it (CSA Act section 151(4), section 151A). If the Secretary grants the payee an exemption, they will immediately advise the Registrar, who may then end the assessment.
When the Registrar accepts a payee's election to end a child support assessment due to the threat of family and domestic violence, details will be recorded of why the case was ended on their case records.
Reviewing an exemption
DHS will review each case where a parent who is an FTB recipient has been granted an exemption from taking maintenance action. The purpose of the review is to see whether the parent's circumstances have changed and, if so, whether the exemption is still appropriate.
If the social worker finds that the parent is no longer at risk from violence or that it is no longer appropriate for the payee to be exempt from taking reasonable maintenance action, the parent will be required to apply to the Registrar for an assessment. Some parents may not have had a previous child support case and others may have ended the case under section 151 of the CSA Act.
Reporting threats of family & domestic violence
DHS will make a record of any conversation with a person threatening violence and any conversation with the person who is the subject of a threat. The record may be required as evidence in court proceedings.
Where a person makes a threat against another person, the matter should be referred to a senior officer (team leader or senior manager) who should ensure that the incident is reported and consider whether the matter should be reported to the police.
The secrecy provisions in the child support legislation allow DHS to disclose the threat to the person being threatened and to ask them whether they want DHS to report the incident (CSRC Act section 16 and CSA Act section 150). The disclosure is for the purposes of the child support legislation because DHS must disclose the threat in order to talk to the payee about appropriate future assessment and collection activities.
DHS will usually consult with the threatened person before deciding to report a threat of violence to the police, but this is not a requirement (CSRC Act section 16(3)(e) and CSA Act section 150(3)(e)). Where there is an immediate or urgent need to prevent an offence, DHS will report a threat to the police without prior consultation with the threatened person. There may also be occasions where the officer handling the matter will report a threat to the police against the wishes of the threatened person because they believe the threat to that person's safety is so serious. This may be the case where DHS is aware of a current intervention order such as a domestic violence order (DVO) or apprehended violence order (AVO).