How are disputed and untested allegations of family violence to be treated at interim hearings?
In the Full Court’s recent decision in Saleh & Saleh  FamCAFC 100, the Court considered how disputed and untested allegations of family violence are treated in interim parenting proceedings. The Court made a number of important points, including:
- Section 60CC requires a Court, when considering what parenting order to make, to ensure that whatever order is made, it does not expose a person to an unacceptable risk of family violence. This is a requirement that does not really depend on there being findings of family violence, but focuses on risk, which can exist independently of disputed allegations;
- Section 61DA is in mandatory terms: “the Court must apply a presumption” that is in the best interests of a child for there to be an order for equal shared parental responsibility. Section 61DA(3) states that the presumption still applies “unless the Court considers that it would not be appropriate in the circumstances” for the presumption to be applied in making an interim order. Section 61DA(3) provides a discretion not to be exercised in a broad exclusionary manner, but only in circumstances where limited evidence may make the application of the presumption, or its rebuttal, difficult. It requires a cautious approach especially in the context of s.60CG.
- Paragraph  in Goode, where the Full Court warns against inappropriately being drawn into matters of contentious fact, does not mean that merely because facts are in dispute, the evidence on the topic must be disregarded, and the case determined solely by reference to the agreed facts: Eaby & Speelman(2015) FLC 93-654.
- An acknowledgement that at an interim hearing, a Judge will sometimes have little alternative than to weigh the probabilities of competing claims and the likely impact on children in the event that a controversial assertion is acted upon or rejected. It is not always feasible to simply ignore an assertion because its accuracy has been put in issue: SS & AH  FamCAFC 13. This applies especially to family violence allegations.
- There is no requirement for corroboration or objective support for an allegation of family violence. Family violence often takes place in private, in circumstances where no corroboration is available.
- A reference to the civil standard of proof is entirely inapt in the context of disputed family violence allegations in interim hearings.
- It is unwise to simply ignore family violence allegations and find that the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility applies.