The interim hearing stage and family violence
The interim hearing stage is a critical time for families where there is family violence and often takes place in a context of urgency. It is unlikely the Court would be able to make findings about disputed facts because not all relevant evidence is available or tested. However, the urgency of the situation and the serious nature of allegations, particularly in terms of a child being exposed to family violence or abuse, requires the Court to consider whether to make interim orders. Even though the evidence available is limited, the Court must still assess risk in such cases in considering what interim orders to put in place pending a final hearing.
The ‘PPP’ screening tool is a useful mechanism in the assessment of risk.20 This screening tool analyses risk by reference to three factors: the potency, pattern and primary perpetrator (PPP) of the violence. The screening tool is not a predictive device but does give a useful framework of factors to look for when considering the risk of family violence.
Potency of violence (level of severity, dangerousness or risk of lethality)
- Are there any threats or fantasies of homicide and/or suicide? If so, does the person have a specific plan to act on them?
- Are weapons available (guns, knives, etc.) indicating the means are accessible?
- How extreme was any prior violence? Were injuries caused, and if so, how serious?
- Is the person highly focused upon/obsessed with the specific victim as a target of blame?
- Is there a history of mental illness – especially thought disorder, paranoia, or severe personality disorder?
- Is the person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, indicating diminished capacity to inhibit angry impulses? Is there a history of substance abuse?
- Does the person express a high degree of depression, rage, or extreme emotional instability (indicating a propensity to act irrationally and unpredictably)?
- Is the party recently separated or experiencing other stressful events such as, loss of job, eviction from home, loss of child custody, or severe financial problems?
Pattern of violence and coercive control
- Is there a history of physical violence including destruction of property? Threats (to hurt self or loved ones)? Assault or battery? Sexual coercion or rape?
- Has there been disregard or contempt for authority (e.g. refusal to comply with court-ordered parenting plans, violation of protective orders, a criminal arrest record)?
- How fearful and/or intimidated is the partner?
- Is there a history of emotional abuse and attacks on self-esteem?
- Does one party make all decisions (e.g. about social, work and leisure activities; how money is spent; how children are disciplined and cared for; household routines and meals; personal deportment and attire, etc.)?
- Has the partner been isolated/restricted from outside contacts (e.g. with employment, friends and family)?
- Is there evidence of obsessive preoccupation with sexual jealousy, and possessiveness of the partner?
- After separation, have there been repeated unwanted attempts to contact the partner (e.g. stalking, hostage-taking, threats or attempts to abduct the partner or child)?
- Have there been multiple petitions/litigation that appear to have the purpose of controlling and harassing?
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