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Better recognition of Victoria’s pets in family violence cases

Better recognition of Victoria’s pets in family violence cases

By Nicky Neville-Jones

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Parliament agrees to reform pet ownership and family violence legislation in Victoria to better protect victims and their pets.

While the current definition of “family violence” in Victoria, pursuant to the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, includes the scenario where a perpetrator causes or threatens to cause the injury of an animal, animals and pets in the family unit, are not individually protected under the Act.

This means that while family violence may be made out, allowing for the Affected Family Member (“AFM”) to receive the protection of an Interim or Final Intervention Order, the AFM may not be in a position to ensure their pet is safe, take their pet with them or change the ownership of their pet legally without a perpetrator knowing. Not being in a position to ensure the safety of a pet is a common reason why some AFM’s elect to stay with their abuser, rather than seek out the protection of an Intervention Order.

While there may also be the possibility that the pepetrator could also be found guilty of a animal cruelty offence down the track, this does not assist the AFM in the short term or ensure the pet’s safety.

New South Wales recently introduced family violence legislation that affords greater protection to the family pet, after recognisig that protecting pets from perpetrators can also ensure greater protection of the AFM. New South Wales also announced additional funding for family violence animal welfare providers. In Victoria, the State Government in 2015 introduced the family violence response program, Safe Steps, designed to work with animal welfare providers; however according to RSPCA Victoria, more funding would be welcome to ensure there are enough providers of short term accommodation for pets of family violence victims.

Because Victoria is still catching up with the high regard we hold our pets, the Animal Justice Party recently led a successful motion in Victorian Parliament to amend family violence legislation so that orders can be made for the protection of pets, alongside their owners. This will make it easier for ownership to be declared or transferred, as well as seeking greater funding to assist AFM’s find short term accommodation for their pets.

These proposals are welcome and will ensure greater protection for both Victoria’s pets and victims of family violence, who, too commonly, need to choose between protecting themselves and protecting their beloved animals.

Nicky Neville – Jones is an Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer at Clancy & Triado Family Lawyers. Nicky is also the Chair of the Executive of the Family Law Section and founding Chair of the Animal Welfare Committee. Alongside former LIV President Caroline Counsel, Nicky is also Co-Chair of the cross-sectional Family Violence Working Group, which is currently seeking new members, particularly from the Criminal, Elder, Disability & Migration Law Committees. To join the Working Group, please email your expression of interest to familylawsection@liv.asn.au.


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