Domestic violence may be far more prevalent in Australia than originally thought because many instances go unreported. At the same time, society has become more sophisticated in its understanding of what constitutes violence and more determined to protect victims from harm before it occurs.

If you or your children either suffer from violence at the hands of another or if you fear that you may, an apprehended violence order, or AVO, may help keep you and your loved ones safe. This is what you need to know.

Domestic and personal violence

We have come a long way since a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick, as long as the stick was no bigger around than his thumb (the so-called “rule of thumb”). Yet, many people, both men and women, are ashamed to seek help from the authorities when they are the target of domestic or personal abuse. They may fear retribution if they do.

Violence can also occur in many more ways than physical assault only. For example, the Domestic and Personal Violence Act (2007) protects people from a wide range of conduct that constitutes violence, including the following:

  • psychological or emotional abuse;
  • physical abuse;
  • sexual abuse;
  • financial restrictions or control;
  • obsessive or jealous behavior;
  • stalking;
  • intimidation; and
  • harassment, including electronic harassment.

This kind of behaviour may occur within a domestic relationship, a married or de facto relationship; in the context of separation and divorce; between neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers or even obsessive strangers.

What an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) can do

In any of these situations, individuals may seek help from the local court and the police by applying for an apprehended violence order (AVO) which is a court order that protects the victim by restricting what  the offender can and cannot do. If an apprehended violence order (AVO) is made it includes mandatory orders that prevent the offender assaulting, threatening, interfering, intimidating and/or stalking the protected person. The court may also include additional orders in the apprehended violence order (AVO) that prevents the offender engaging in  specific activities such as attending the protected person’s home, workplace or approaching the protected person.

There are actually two kinds of apprehended violence orders (AVOs), depending on whether the underlying relationship is a domestic relationship or not. Where the protected person and the offender are or were in a domestic relationship the AVO is called an “Apprehended Domestic Violence Order” and may also protect children under the age of 16. If the protected person are not, and have not been in a domestic relationship, the AVO is called an “Apprehended Personal Violence Order.”

A person who breaches an AVO (by engaging in any activity that is prevented by the terms of the AVO) can be charged (as this is a criminal offence) and if found guilty by the court they may face severe penalties, including up to two years in prison. As a result, most people who have an apprehended violence order (AVO) against them comply with its terms. Nonetheless, anyone who has been victimized or who fears violence should remain vigilant. All violence and threats should be reported to the police immediately, either before or after an apprehended violence order (AVO) is made.

How to get an apprehended violence order (AVO)

Anyone, including the police, the person seeking protection or someone authorized to act on that person’s behalf may apply for an Apprehended Personal or Domestic Violence Order.

The process has seven steps:

  • The application must be made in a local court;
  • If an individual, rather than the police, makes the application, it must first be signed by a Registrar. If the Registrar believes that the application is frivolous, vexatious or without substance, he or she may refuse to issue the application;
  • Once the application is issued by the Registrar, the police will serve it on the person against whom it is sought;
  • The Registrar will give the matter a court date, known as the first mention date. If the danger is immediate, the person seeking protection may be awarded a temporary AVO;
  • All parties must attend court on the given date;
  • If the person against whom the order is being sought does not agree to the AVO being made, then the matter will be listed for a hearing on a separate day;
  • At the hearing, a magistrate will hear all of the evidence and decide whether to make an Apprehended Violence Order.

Some police stations now have Domestic Violence Liaison Officers who may be helpful in an emergency. If police come to someone’s home as a result of violence, they may also be able to get a temporary apprehended violence order (AVO) immediately, to remain in effect until the victimized person can go to court.

Police officers may also take firearms away from a violent person. If that person is on bail for assault or some other crime, victims may ask that he or she be made to report to a police station at a distance from where they live.

If the shoe is on the other foot, however, and an individual believes that he or she has been wrongly served with an apprehended violence order (AVO), it is possible to contest the application or to choose to agree to the apprehended violence order (AVO) being made without admitting to any wrongdoing. This is a situation that clearly requires a person obtaining expert legal advice.

Complicated situations involving child custody and visitation

Things may become even more complicated when there is both an apprehended violence order (AVO) in place between a couple and also parenting orders in place relating to the couple’s children. In these circumstances, wherever the terms of the apprehended violence order (AVO) and the parenting orders conflict with one another, the parenting orders will take precedence.

If you do not have parenting orders in place and you fear or have experienced violence at the hands of the other parent, whether or not there is an apprehended violence order (AVO) in place, you should seek urgent legal advice about how to handle your situation.

At Owen Hodge Lawyers, we understand how frightening domestic violence, or the threat of violence is. You can and should get help. Please call us at 1 800 770 780 or contact us via ohl@owenhodge.com.au, so that we can help you respond in a way that will keep you and your loved ones safe.