Legal Industry Events

Empowering Family Law Professionals on How to Best Address Family Violence Matters

Discover practical insights that you can implement in professional practice to help your clients who have been impacted by family violence

As a family law professional, you play a vital role in addressing family violence and safeguarding the well-being of your clients. To support and empower you in the sensitive nature of your line of work, Smokeball and FamilyProperty recently hosted the 2023 State of Family Law Series: Exploring Best Practice in Addressing Family Violence.  

This comprehensive five-week series brought together a group of 14 expert speakers specialising in different areas of the family law sector, including Judicial Registrars from the FCFCOA and a former Judge. With over 2,000 attendees joining the event, the aim was to provide all family law professionals with the necessary tools and knowledge to effectively navigate cases involving family violence and how to handle these sensitive matters with expertise.  

Read on and watch the On-Demand Recordings to uncover all the practical insights, strategies, tools, and resources.

We have summarised some key insights for you from the Series and you can also gain an understanding of the perspectives of family law professionals who have first-hand experience with cases involving family violence.  

Six Polling Statistics: What Key Insights Did Attendees Share?  

Throughout the Series, attendees were invited to share their perspectives through insightful polls. Here are some notable findings that shed light on the current landscape:

68% of family law professionals say most of their cases have allegations of family violence. These results correlate with the fact that in the 2022 financial year, 80% of cases filed in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) raised allegations of Domestic and Family Violence and 89% had one or more risk factors.

A striking 78% of attendees believed that the evidence regarding the harm inflicted on children by domestic violence perpetrators was inadequate. This highlights the critical need for improved documentation and awareness of the harm caused by family violence on children.

91% of family law professionals think there should be mandatory training on family violence. It is important for family law professionals to understand, recognise, and correctly categorise patterns of family violence and assess the impact of behaviours such as coercive control on children, avoid complicity in the litigation process, understand cultural issues, and identify appropriate rehabilitation programs for perpetrators.

78% of attendees reported having felt the effects of vicarious trauma. This highlights the need for professionals to recognise the early signs of trauma in themselves and their colleagues and implement positive strategies to safeguard and promote their mental health and well-being.

60% of attendees recognised a need to implement measures on managing safety as family law professionals involved in family violence matters. This emphasises the necessity of implementing comprehensive safety measures and protocols to protect both clients and practitioners.

41% of attendees revealed that most of their cases involved coercive control, with 34% of those cases also involving mental health and substance abuse issues. This underscores the complexity and interconnectedness of these challenges within family violence matters.

Practical Insights from Speakers that You Can Implement in Practice

Session 1: Understanding Coercive Control in the Family Law Context

Speaker: David Mandel, Executive Director, Safe and Together Institute

Coercive control extends beyond isolated incidents of abuse. Recognising patterns of coercive control and documenting the harm caused is essential in comprehending the dynamics within families affected by domestic violence.

Session 2: Family Dispute Resolution in Family Violence Cases


  • Brett McGrath, Senior Judicial Registrar, FCFCOA
  • Katherine Manby, Principal Family Lawyer, VM Family Law
  • Fiona Kirkman, Global Family Law Evangelist, Smokeball

Mediation can benefit victims of domestic violence by providing more control, allowing support people to participate in the process, and minimising the traumatic impact that often comes with litigation processes. However, tailored FDR processes should be explored to empower victims and ensure their safety. Thorough preparation, risk assessment, and prioritising safety are crucial in FDR. It is also important to prevent the misuse of FDR and understand exceptions to confidentiality, protecting the well-being of children and individuals at risk.  

Session 3: FCFCOA Case Management and Processes- Identifying and Responding to Family Violence and Other Family Safety Risks


  • Anne-Marie Rice, Senior Judicial Registrar, FCFCOA
  • Kimberly Buttriss, Judicial Registrar  
  • Anna Baltins, Associate Director of Domestic & Family Violence Unit at Legal Aid NSW

The Lighthouse Project, Evatt List, and Magellan List are all specialised FCFCOA processes aimed at early identification and management of risk. The Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) is a specialist service that provides legal and social support to women and men affected by family violence.  

Session 4: Acting for the Victim vs Acting for the Perpetrator


  • Ghania Dib, Principal Lawyer, GDA Lawyers
  • Steve Frost, Founding Director, Horizons Family Law Centre  
  • Joplin Higgins OAM, Managing Director, Joplin Lawyers  

It is crucial to understand, categorise and respond appropriately to family violence when acting for victims and perpetrators to avoid inadequate responses and complicity. Cultural factors contribute to resistance and silence, necessitating education and empowerment for women from diverse backgrounds. To address the root causes of violence, rehabilitation programs for perpetrators should be undertaken, as well as engagement in other appropriate services.  

Session 5: Family Violence Financial Claims and the Intersection of Family Law and Personal Injury Law


  • Michelle May AM KC, Barrister, Mediator, and Former Judge, Lucinda Chambers
  • Kavita Balendra, Barrister, 4 Wentworth Chambers  
  • Kasturi Wren, Principal, Law Advisory  

Property settlement percentage adjustments due to family violence face challenges in proving conduct and impact. Victims can pursue personal injury claims for physical and psychological harm, but time limitations and assessing the recoverability of damages are crucial. Family lawyers should consider victims' support schemes for their clients and refer to personal injury lawyers for advice on tort claims.  

Session 6: Ethics and Resilience in Family Violence Cases


  • Michelle May AM KC, Barrister, Mediator, and Former Judge, Lucinda Chambers
  • Dr Adrian Allen, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Healthy Mind Clinic

Legal representatives involved in mediation face ethical challenges that must be navigated carefully. Lawyers must avoid negotiating the withdrawal of a criminal complaint as part of family law negotiations as this constitutes professional misconduct. Mediators play a crucial role in managing the emotions and interests of all parties involved, especially in cases where family violence is a factor. By establishing trust through pre-mediation conferences and actively listening to each party, mediators can increase the likelihood of reaching a resolution that both parties can live with. Family law practitioners should also be aware of vicarious traumatic stress (VTS), which can result from repeated exposure to traumatic material and clients and implement tools and skills to protect themselves against VTS.

Dive deeper and gain full-length access to the 2023 State of Family Law Series through our OnDemand Recordings

Smokeball and FamilyProperty are glad to offer complimentary access to the series. Watch the series to uncover all the practical insights, strategies, tools, and resources.

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Jul 10, 2023