Recently, instances of domestic violence have received increased coverage in the Australian media. It is not clear whether this has come about as a result of more light being shed on a problem currently reaching epidemic proportions, or whether there has been a marked increase in instances of domestic violence. Whatever the case, domestic violence (or family violence, as it is defined in the Family Law Act) is an issue deeply ingrained within many family law matters, and causes certain logistical difficulties over and above the physical and emotional turmoil faced by victims as a consequence of that violence.

Due to my years of experience as a family lawyer, people often come to me for advice prior to separation. There have been many instances where a person has informed me that they are a victim of family violence, and thus I have come to learn that one of the real difficulties that victims of family violence face is knowing where they can go if they do separate from their abuser. I have personally dealt with many matters whereby the victim of family violence has either come from a non-English speaking background, or does not have access to funds and, consequently, has no recourse in the event that they do separate from their abuser.

It is for this reason that shelter facilities such as The Haven in Penrith, and The Sanctuary in Castle Hill are so important within the context of victims of family violence separating from their partners. In an article published in the Western Weekender back in April 2018, Emily Newton highlighted the opening of The Haven in the Penrith area. Sharon Levy, a carer at The Haven, informed Ms Newton that " Penrith has one of the highest reported incidences of domestic and family violence in the city metropolitan area".

Further to this, homelessness for separated victims of domestic violence is a real and ongoing issue. The Haven's aim is to provide 7000 nights of safety for victims of family violence throughout the course of a year, although Ms Levy has said that unfortunately, even this number is unlikely to be enough to cater for all of those parties who require the assistance of shelters like The Haven and The Sanctuary, and that she expected that within a week of opening, the facility would be full.

One of the difficulties in advising victims of family violence is being able to provide practical advice as to how they can effectively improve their personal circumstances. As Family Lawyers, we are able to provide relevant advice with respect to obtaining documents which will help clients better understand their financial situations. We can also provide advice on obtaining access to funds, and bringing the proper applications before the court to seek the protection of orders relating to the risk of family violence for victims and their children.

However, what we are unable to do as lawyers is advise victims to leave their abusers - with this being one of the many reasons that I believe facilities such as The Haven and The Sanctuary are so important. These types of shelters provide emergency accommodation to victims of family violence, which in turn allows their solicitors the time necessary to make the proper investigations, and to assist those in need to obtain access to funds needed to establish their own residences.

There are a number of relevant factors for victims to consider when determining how to separate from an abusive spouse. In many cases, careful planning is required in order to ensure the safety of both victims and their children, and that the proper arrangements are put in place for all parties to spend time with the children, wherever this is relevant.

Coleman Greig Lawyers is currently undertaking the White Ribbon Australia Workplace Accreditation Program, and takes a zero-tolerance stance with regard to any and all forms of violence against women. If you are concerned that you may be a victim of domestic violence, we urge you to seek help via the White Ribbon Australia website.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.