Sally* is a disability support pensioner. Earlier this year, she approached Goulburn Valley CLC after she was arrested by the local Sherriff and bailed to appear before a Magistrate in relation to 14 warrants totalling almost $4,500 in unpaid parking tickets, speeding fines and tolls accrued by her ex-husband and her son in cars registered in her name.
Sally separated from her husband in 2009. They had three children. Until recently Sally ran her own business. When she approached our service she was in a bad way. She was depressed and anxious, with very little family support. Her son and his girlfriend were trying to force her to sign her car over to him and to pay for the car’s registration.
Sally explained that her ex-husband had been controlling and manipulative and that all the family’s bills, debts and other liabilities were in her name, including the vehicles. Sally felt that her son had begun to mirror her ex-husband’s abusive behaviour and was pressuring her to give into their demands.
The situation was made worse by Sally’s battles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from the abuse in her marriage, which had in turn led to the breakdown of her business. Sally was no longer working and was struggling to get by on the pension.
Sally told us that she had informed VicRoads that she was not responsible for the fines and had done her best to pay. However, she had not been notified about many of her ex-husband’s and son’s fines and, as a result, they had not been paid.
Without any income and with debts left by her ex-husband exceeding $100,000, Sally was struggling financially. She often had to request food from St Vincent de Paul just to get by. Due to her financial situation, Sally was not in a position to pay the fines, even under a payment plan. Sally was frightened that she would be sent to prison.
Even though her marriage had ended several years previously, Sally was only now beginning to understand the extent of her ex-husband’s control over her and how isolated she had been for so many years. We explained to Sally that family violence takes many different forms including, physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse. Sally later reflected that this was a ‘lightbulb moment’ for her.
We helped Sally to write a submission to the Magistrate that argued that, given her medical condition and financial situation, imprisonment would be unduly harsh and oppressive. Sally represented herself at Court. The Magistrate determined that the $4,500 be withdrawn and Sally was free to go.
A week later, Sally visited our office. She felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She told us that before the Court case she would have simply caved in to her family’s demands and signed anything that was handed to her. She now recognises that this behaviour was unacceptable and constitutes family violence. She now feels less overwhelmed and more confident about her situation. She can now stand up to her son and his girlfriend and has said ‘No’ several times.
*Not her real name