My client Tom was at work when the police turned up. They served him with an intervention order, took him home and told him to pack a suitcase. If he returned home, or contacted his wife or children, he'd be facing two years' jail. He'd had no inkling this was coming.
The order was an interim one, granted ex parte. That means the court issued it in his absence, having heard only his wife's side of the story.
In theory, Tom could go to court and argue his case, but a hearing date was months away. With his wife now in sole possession of the family home, her lawyers came on heavy about a divorce and a property settlement. They hinted that if he played ball, he could start seeing his kids again.
It is difficult for men to contest the allegations:
Most men simply can't afford to keep paying out indefinitely for lawyers. They can't keep taking days off work. They can't stand not seeing their children for months on end, so they come to terms with the applicants. They consent to orders without admitting the allegations and then try to negotiate some child access.
Those who dig their heels in and contest the applications don't fare much better. Often, the paperwork doesn't even particularise the case they have to meet. Tom's application claimed he was "abusive and controlling". How? When? In what way? He'd find that out in court.
In any event, the act defines family violence so widely, it includes the sort of friction that occurs occasionally in even the happiest family: heated argument, raised voices, the silent treatment. I've seen an application succeed where the husband criticised his wife's cooking and (on a separate occasion) slammed a door. You can always find something a man's done wrong.
How to reform the situation? First, the definition of domestic violence needs to be tightened. It needs to be something more than a heated argument or the silent treatment. It should involve physical violence, or the real threat of violence. Second, men who do have an ex parte decision made against them should be guaranteed a court hearing within a specified period of time (a month?). Third, the paperwork should detail the specific accusations made against the men. Fourth, if a woman is found to have fabricated an accusation it should be considered negatively when parenting orders are finally made.