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On the 19th of August 2016 I attended the official launch of the Sense and Sensitivity Report attended by the inspiring Rosie Batty who is an advocate for women and children affected by domestic violence.

It was an insightful morning that was both thought-provoking and moving.

The Sense and Sensibility report published by the Women’s Legal Service NSW raises many integral issues in relation to family law and domestic violence but I would like to share two that I find particularly noteworthy:

Domestic Violence and Access to Mediation (Family Dispute Resolution)

Survivors of domestic violence are frequently denied the opportunity to attend Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) as it is not always deemed an appropriate avenue given the history of violence and the fact that there is no domestic violence informed model of FDR available as an alternative.  However, many survivors would like to be given the opportunity to attempt to reach an agreement about their family in the FDR instead of having to go straight to court.   Although the element of violence raises safety and ethical issues there are ways in which survivors of domestic violence who wish to participate in FDR can receive equal access to the process in a safe and secure environment.  These could include each party having to work with both a support worker and a lawyer during the FDR process and the option to elect to proceed face to face via a shuttle conference.  There are many benefits that FDR can offer as opposed to going to court such as the fact that it is child focused and more cost effective, therefore the WLS NSW encourages a “genuine commitment from government to develop and resource a model of FDR that is appropriate for matters involving family violence, focussed on safety, which assists the parties to identify their key concerns and achievable outcomes” (Women’s Legal Service NSW, 2016, p. 5).

The Increased Risk of Information Sharing on Survivors of Domestic Violence

The increased use of information sharing of sensitive materials in the areas of family law and domestic violence can have serious and potentially damaging repercussion on survivors.  While the paper recognises that in certain situations information sharing can lead to timely and safer outcomes, it also highlights how information sharing has the potential to provide alleged perpetrators with additional means to harm survivors or to abuse litigation processes.  The report recommends that the family law system must protect survivors by preserving the confidentiality of therapeutic relationships in order that they are given the best opportunity to recover without further incursions on their ability to care for their children.

I strongly agree with the sentiment of Women’s Legal Service NSW (2016) when they say:

“It is very important that judicial officers, lawyers and report writers ensure that court processes are not co-opted by perpetrators to ‘perpetuate a pattern of dominance and control’” (Chewter, 2003) (p.24).

I commend Women’s Legal Service NSW for propounding this important issue in a succinct, well-written and accessible report, as well as the Law and Justice Foundation for providing funding.

If you need advice on a family law or domestic violence matter please call Gowland Legal on (02) 9569 3000 to receive quality advice on your individual circumstances.