New Government initiatives to help women achieve economic security after separation
Following the breakdown of a relationship, financial stress and uncertainty about “who gets what” can be a contention for both parties. In most cases, women are more likely to experience significant declines in household disposable income than men, and those women leaving a relationship involving domestic or family violence are even more vulnerable to financial stress.
A major issue for women affected by an abusive relationship is where the costs of setting up a new home for themselves and their children becomes challenging, and they may be less likely or prevented from leaving an abusive relationship. For those women leaving an abusive relationship, it is often the case that they might accept a less satisfactory financial settlement due to a fear of reprisal or because they wish to prevent ongoing mediation over finances.
What measures are being introduced?
In November 2018, the Commonwealth Government announced a new package of funding measures, the Women’s Economic Security Package (“WESP”), to assist women leaving relationships of domestic or family violence. The package also includes a more streamlined settlement process for small property disputes in family law matters.
Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer MP, described the WESP as an initiative that is aimed at “delivering practical measures to help give women greater choices about their lives and to build financial security for themselves and their families”.
The WESP will assist and encourage women, including victims of domestic or family violence, to pursue safer, faster and fairer parenting and property settlements after separation.
The WESP includes $98.4 million in new funding for family law services and initiatives for the 2019-2020 financial year, including:
- Ongoing funding, initially $7 million over three years, for the new Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme, which protects victims of family violence by banning direct cross-examination in certain circumstances, requiring that cross-examination is conducted by a legal representative;
- $31.8 million to existing Commonwealth-funded specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships across Australia, with an expansion of these services to include financial advice, counselling and literacy services;
- $50.4 million for family law property mediation services, including funding to:
- Family Relationship Centres across Australia, on an ongoing basis, to help families reach agreement about splitting their property after separation; and
- Legal Aid Commissions for a two year trial of lawyer-assisted mediation for property matters with asset pools of up to $500,000 (excluding debt).
- $5.9 million to Federal Family Courts to conduct a two year trial of simpler and faster court processes for resolving family law property cases with an asset pool of up to $500,000 (excluding debt); and
- $3.3 million for the Australian Taxation Office to give the Family Law Courts early access to parties’ superannuation for victims of domestic and family violence when making property orders.
The WESP will assist those women who are leaving abusive relationships to ensure their safety, as well as their children’s safety, and to help them achieve equitable property settlements and increase their financial independence.