Program delivers more support for women to move on from family violence

Increase access to family law support and you’ll see more people in a better position to establish a safe and secure future for themselves and their families. That’s what Women’s Legal Service Victoria’s Family Law Access program successfully showed.

Over two years, our team worked with Brimbank Melton, Barwon and WestJustice community legal centres to support, train and mentor their lawyers to provide best practice family law support for their communities.

The results were far-reaching, with all three community legal centres now running sustainable (and growing) family law practices.

Geordie Stapleton, who is the Principal Lawyer at Barwon Community Legal Services, said the program allowed her team to offer new support to clients experiencing family violence and separation.

“A lot of our clients, they would have just walked away. For us, being able to help people to come away from a separation with some property to reestablish themselves is so important. It is a really important life outcome for our clients,” she said.

Victim-survivors of family violence benefited the most from the program, as they make up a large percentage of the people who are currently missing out on family law support.

Brimbank Melton Lawyer Mikaela Farrugia said the training was profoundly supportive, and urged other community legal centres to take part.  

“Navigating separation … we are seeing vulnerability, pain and myriad of emotions which is quite a lot to go through before turning mind to the legal implications.”

WEstJustice’s Legal Director Cleona Feuerring said the program has transformed the centre’s practice.

“It was really transformative for our practice,” she said.

“We are now training 5-6 other lawyers in our team to do Family Law work. And we have been able to attract more lawyers. It’s getting out there now that we are running a really sophisticated practice and now with diversification, we can offer lawyers a much more attractive role.

Women’s Legal Service Victoria’s Ilana Favel said the project can be scaled up, so more people experiencing family violence get the support they need.

“We want to see more people in our communities establish secure and safe future for themselves and their family,” she said.  

Women’s Legal Service Victoria will soon open expressions of interest to work with more community legal centres to build or increase their family law practice.

“This is a great opportunity for community legal centres to work together,” Ilana said.

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