Abusive partners sometimes tell the other partner that they have to stay in the relationship, or else they will have no rights to see the children. This is not true.

If you have a child together with your partner or ex-partner, or have been caring for a child together, you may be considered the child’s parent under the family law. The child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents and any other significant people in their life. The court will take into account many factors when determining if someone is a parent of a child, including if there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse.

If you leave an abusive relationship, your children still have a right to a relationship with you. It is best to talk to a solicitor about your options in relation to children.

Children can experience domestic and family violence as:

  • witnesses to domestic and family violence. This includes seeing or hearing emotional and physical abuse, seeing physical signs after the violence or witnessing the effects of domestic and family violence on the abused person;
  • weapons of abuse. An abusive partner can use access to their children as a form of abuse and control. They may try to turn children against the other partner or undermine the other partner’s parenting role, or transgender parent’s identity; or 
  • victims of abuse. Children may be physically or emotionally abused by the abusive partner (or even in some cases by the abused partner).

Children who experience domestic and family violence, whether in LGBTIQ or cisgender heterosexual relationships, can suffer from many negative effects ranging from short term physical injuries to long term emotional or psychological trauma. All children who experience domestic and family violence are affected by it in some way.

All service providers, except solicitors, in NSW are legally mandated to report to the Department of Family and Community Services if they believe a child is experiencing domestic and family violence and is at risk of serious harm. They will usually tell the client they are going to do this and what the possible consequences might be.


Pets

Sometimes the lack of pet-friendly accommodation options prevent LGBTIQ people from leaving an abusive relationship. It is common practice for the perpetrator of domestic and family violence to prevent a partner from leaving or lure family members back home by threatening to harm the pet. 

Some branches of the RSPCA run the Safe Beds for Pets program. Safe beds for pets provides low cost accommodation for pets whose owners are escaping an abusive relationship. 

With the Safe Beds for Pets Program individuals or families can now leave domestic and family violence situations and not fear for the safety of their pets. It offers temporary housing for pets of people who are seeking refuge from domestic and family violence and helps to address the link between animal and human abuse and child protection.

The Safe Beds program is not a long-term solution to the housing of the pet, but it gives domestic and family violence victims peace of mind and allows them to secure their own safety and make arrangements for the future.

The Safe Beds program prefers to receive pet referrals from domestic violence support services and agencies (e.g. counselling services, ACON, and the Safe Relationships Project) that are working with clients escaping domestic and family violence. 

However, if you are escaping an abusive relationship and you are not being assisted by a support service contact the RSPCA Safe Beds program, let them know your situation, and that your pet needs refuge. For more information please email safebeds@rspcansw.org.au, phone (02) 9770 7555 or check out the website.


Parenting

Abusive partners sometimes use children as a weapon to control their partners and to manipulate them into staying in the abusive relationship. Abusive partners commonly say things like: 

  • “If you leave you will not have any rights to see the child”;
  • “You are not the real parent”; or
  • “I will tell the Department of Community Services or your ex partner that you are gay or transitioning and they will take your children away”. 

These statements are not true. Regardless of your sexuality, gender identity or intersex status, if you leave an abusive relationship, your children still have a right to a relationship with you.

If you have a child together with your partner or ex-partner, or have been caring for a child together, you may be considered the child’s parent under the family law. The child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents and any other significant people in their life. The court will take into account many factors when determining if someone is a parent of a child, including if there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse. 

If you were in a de facto relationship with the birth mother at the time of conception using a sperm donor, you may be the child’s legal parent. If the birth mother denies you are a parent of the child, seek legal advice as soon as you can. 

If you are in an LGBTIQ relationship and you have arranged for a child to be born via surrogacy, you and your partner will not initially be the child’s legal parents. 

If you entered into an altruistic surrogacy arrangement, you will need to apply to the Supreme Court of NSW for a parentage order to confer the status of parent to you.  

If you entered into an overseas commercial surrogacy arrangement, the only mechanism available is to apply to the Family Court for a parenting order conferring parental responsibility upon you. This will not make you a legal parent in commercial arrangements. It is an offence for New South Wales residents to enter into overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements.

Being a legal parent means that when you cannot agree with the other legal parent about arrangements for your child, you can apply to the Family Law Courts for parenting orders. If you are not a child’s legal parent, you may still be able to make an application for parenting orders if you have a concern for the ‘care, welfare or development of the child’.

A Family Relationship Centre can assist you to plan the first step forward. Separated families may be referred on to their Family Dispute Resolution service where practitioners work with parents separately and or together to facilitate ‘child focussed’ discussions about issues or disputes and assist separated parents develop parenting plans, or provide the requisite certificate for consent or court ordered parenting orders.  

Visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au/services/frc/ for further information.

The Family Law Courts have a special responsibility to protect children from domestic or family violence and its effects. When making decisions about children, including parenting orders, a court must weigh up two main considerations:

  • the benefit to children of a meaningful relationship with both parents; and
  • the need to protect children from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.

It is important that you tell your lawyer or the court about any violence you have experienced so that the court can take this into account. You should tell the court about any Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs), domestic violence charges and other court orders relating to your family.

If you have an ADVO, the parenting orders a court makes will not necessarily be consistent with the ADVO. Where they are inconsistent, the orders will modify your ADVO and the court must explain the changes to you. If violence occurs under a parenting orders condition (e.g. while handing children over), you can apply for the orders to be changed. You should also call 000 immediately to report the incident to the police.