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Family violence courts and counselling orders

MCV has a number of courts and services specialising in family violence matters. 

Family Violence Court Division

The Family Violence Court Division is available at the Ballarat, Heidelberg and Shepparton Magistrates' Courts and:

  • provides easy access to the court
  • promotes the safety of people affected by violence
  • increases the accountability of people who have used violence against family members, encouraging them to change behaviour
  • increases the protection of children exposed to family violence.

Each Family Violence Court Division has:

  • magistrates who are trained in hearing family violence matters
  • magistrates who can make counselling orders. See below for more information. 
  • a trained in family violence who coordinates all services and works to ensure matters are heard in a timely manner
  • family violence and practitioners who are specially trained to provide support. They can also provide referrals to community support agencies to ensure people have the support they need outside of court
  • police prosecutors, outreach workers and lawyers with family violence training. 

The Family Violence Court Division can hear intervention order cases at the same time as other matters, including:

  • applications and pleas in criminal cases
  • family law parenting order matters 
  • victims of crime applications related to family violence.

Counselling orders

A counselling orders requires a male respondent to attend a Men’s Behaviour Change program. A magistrate can make a counselling order on a  respondent who is: 

  • the current or previous husband/partner/boyfriend of a woman protected by the order, and
  • living in a particular postcode when they used family violence.

Magistrates at the Ballarat, Frankston, Heidelberg, Moorabbin and Shepparton Magistrates' Court can order a respondent to attend a Men's Behaviour Program. Magistrates from other courts can order a male respondent to contact the Men’s Referral Service and seek a referral to the Program. 

The Men’s Behaviour Change program helps respondents understand why they acted abusively and learn or strengthen non-violent ways of being with partners and children. It aims to promote women and children’s safety by holding men accountable for their use of violence towards family members. 

How a counselling order is made

The magistrate will order the respondent to attend an interview with a family violence respondent practitioner.

The interview is for carrying out an eligibility assessment to see if the respondent is suitable for a Men’s Behaviour Change Program.

The respondent will be asked about their background including, but not limited to:

  • their personal history
  • language skills
  • if they have a disability
  • if they have any psychiatric or psychological condition
  • if they have alcohol or drug problems.
  • The results will be given to a magistrate who will decide if the respondent should go for counselling.

If a magistrate decides to make the order, they may explain to the respondent:

  • what the purpose of the order is
  • what the respondent needs to do under the order
  • what happens if the respondent does not follow the order
  • how the order may be changed (or ‘varied’) or cancelled (or ‘revoked’).

Breaking a counselling order is a criminal matter

A counselling order has conditions, or rules that the respondent must follow. This includes:

  • If a respondent misses their eligibility assessment interview, they must immediately contact the Family Violence Respondent Practitioner to explain why and arrange for another appointment.
  • If a respondent misses a session of their Men’s Behaviour Change Program, they must immediately contact the agency to explain why. 

When a respondent disobeys a counselling order without a reasonable excuse, they can be charged with a criminal offence. See the intervention order breaches page for more information.

If the court finds the respondent guilty, they can be given:

  • a prison sentence
  • a fine.
  • The respondent will also have a criminal record.

How to change a counselling order

A respondent can apply to change a counselling order (called ‘varying’) or cancel it (called ‘revoking’).

The magistrate may allow this if:

  • there is no approved men’s behaviour change program that the respondent can reasonably and practically attend
  • they see the order is no longer appropriate, or
  • there has been a change in circumstances that significantly affects whether a respondent can or is able to participate in the program.
Last updated on 28 Sep 2020
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