Domestic Violence Orders in the Northern Territory are governed by the Domestic and Family Violence Act (NT). This Act gives the NT courts the power to make orders restraining a person from engaging in domestic and family violence.
It sets out the procedure on how to apply for a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) in the NT. The aim of DVOs is to ensure the safety and protection of individuals experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic violence, and to prevent domestic violence from occurring.
This article summarises the application process.
How can I apply for a Domestic Violence Order in the Northern Territory?
A police officer, a person seeking protection, and an adult on acting on behalf of the protected person can apply for a DVO. To apply for a DVO in the NT for yourself, you must be 15 years or older. If you are under 15, an adult can make the application on your behalf.
A person experiencing domestic violence can apply for a DVO in the NT by attending their local court. The court will need the following information from you:
- Why the order is necessary; and
- Examples of what the defendant has said or done.
Before applying for a DVO in the NT, it is recommended that you get legal advice.
Alternatively, a police officer may apply for a DVO in the NT on your behalf if they believe you are in danger.
A person who feels they are in immediate danger of family or domestic violence should call the police urgently on 000.
If protection is urgent, an interim order can be made. This is a temporary order that restrains the defendant from contacting you until the matter goes to court.
The defendant will then be informed of the application and be summoned to appear in court. A defendant can either consent to the DVO or dispute it.
Consenting to the order does not result in a criminal conviction and there is no penalty unless the defendant breaches the order.
What factors does the court consider in an application for a Domestic Violence Order in the Northern Territory?
A court may grant a DVO in the NT if it is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for the protected person to fear the defendant from committing domestic violence against them.
An order may be made even though the protected person claims they do not have any fears. This is provided that a reasonable person would be fearful in similar circumstances.
Section 19 of the Domestic and Family Violence Act states that when determining whether to issue an order, the safety and protection of the protected person are of paramount importance.
The Act also lists a number of factors that the court must consider, including the following:
- Any existing or pending family law orders relating to the defendant;
- The accommodation needs of the protected person;
- The defendant’s criminal record;
- The defendant’s previous conduct towards the protected person or anyone else; and
- Any matters the court thinks are relevant.
If the defendant and protected person ordinarily live in the same household with a child, section 20 of the Act applies. It states that the court must presume that the protection of the protected person and the child is best achieved by them continuing to live in the family home.
A court is also empowered to include a condition in the DVO that the defendant takes part in a rehabilitation program. This condition can only be made if the court is satisfied that the defendant is a suitable person to take part in the program. There must also be availability in the program and the defendant consents to participating.
What kinds of conduct can a DVO in the Northern Territory restrain?
Domestic violence has a broad definition in the NT. Section 5 of the Domestic and Family Violence Act states that any one of the following things committed by a person against another when they are in a family or domestic relationship is domestic violence:
- Any conduct causing harm, such as sexual assault;
- Damage to property which includes injury or death of an animal;
- Stalking; and
- Economic abuse.
The definition of domestic violence in the NT also includes the situation when someone attempts or threatens to commit any of the above acts.
What is family and domestic relationship?
Under the Domestic and Family Violence Act, family and domestic relationships are relationships between spouses, de facto partners (including same-sex couples), or individuals who are relatives.
This definition includes mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and step-children.
An extended definition of family relationships applies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as including individuals who are considered to be relatives according to tradition or contemporary social practice.
Other relationships that fall within the definition of a domestic relationship include:
- Couples who are dating, regardless of whether their relationship is sexual in nature;
- People who ordinarily live together, such as flatmates;
- Both unpaid and paid carer relationships; and
- When one person has the custody or guardianship of the other.
If the relationship is not considered as being a family or domestic relationship, you may still be able to apply for a Personal Violence Order in the Northern Territory. A lawyer can help determine which order is right for you and guide you through the application process.
How long does a DVO last in the Northern Territory?
The order will state on it how long the DVO lasts for. However, if circumstances change, an application can be made by the defendant or protected person to have the conditions varied or revoked at anytime by submitting an application to a court.
You should seek the assistance of a lawyer when making a variation or revocation application.
What happens if there is a breach of a DVO?
Although a DVO is a civil order, meaning that having a DVO against you is not a criminal offence, a breach of its conditions is a criminal offence.
Penalties for a breach range from a fine to up to two years’ imprisonment. It may also result in a conviction being recorded on the defendant’s criminal record.
For further details, see our article, Breach of Domestic Violence Orders in the Northern Territory.
If you believe that there has been a breach, you should contact the police immediately. Keep details of the breach, such as time, date, place, and what occurred, to assist the police when investigating the incident.
A protected person should not initiate contact with the defendant but can apply for the conditions to be amended or revoked if there has been a change in circumstances.
If you have a DVO made against you, it is important that you obey all of the conditions. Failure to do so is a criminal offence, even if the protected person initiated the contact.
Speak to your lawyer if you are unsatisfied with the conditions. They may be able to assist you in having the DVO amended to suit your circumstances.