How is abuse defined in the Family Law Act?
The definition of ‘abuse’ in the FLA was amended and came into effect on 7 June 2012. ‘Abuse’ is defined as follows:
abuse, in relation to a child, means:
- an assault, including a sexual assault, of the child, or
- person (the first person) involving the child in a sexual activity with the first person or another person in which the child is used, directly or indirectly, as a sexual object by the first person or the other person, and where there is unequal power in the relationship between the child and the first person, or
- causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, including (but not limited to) when that harm is caused by the child being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence, or
- serious neglect of the child.
The expanded definition of ‘abuse’ would appear to be intended to reflect current understandings of the diverse ways in which children can be damaged by violence and serious neglect.
Different types of family violence
Family violence takes many forms and, when framing parenting orders, it is important to differentiate between the types of violence. Because individual families and relationships are dynamic and unique, care is required when any system of classification is applied.6 One well known classification system holds7 that violence can generally be defined as being within four categories. These are:
- coercive controlling violence
- violent resistance
- situational couple violence, and
- separation instigated violence.
Coercive controlling violence is an ongoing pattern of use of threat, force, emotional abuse and other coercive means to unilaterally dominate a person and induce fear, submission and compliance in them. Its focus is on control, and does not always involve physical harm.
Violent resistance occurs when a partner uses violence as a defence in response to abuse by a partner. It is an immediate reaction to an assault and is primarily intended to protect oneself or others from injury.
Situational couple violence is partner violence that does not have its basis in the dynamic of power and control. Generally, situational couple violence results from situations or disputes between partners that escalates into physical violence.
Separation instigated violence is violence instigated by the separation where there was no history of violence in the relationship or in other contexts.
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