Ensuring Safety and Well-Being for Our Children: A Positive Step in Family Law Reforms

Every day across Australia, parents and caregivers face the challenges of family, sexual, and domestic violence, affecting the lives of women and children. 

Why the Reforms Were Needed

These experiences can lead to homelessness, financial instability, and emotional trauma. The family law system should ideally be a source of support and protection in these situations, but often, it falls short.

For many years, advocates, legal experts, and more than 100 women’s organizations, alongside victim-survivors, have been calling for reforms that prioritize safety in family law. Finally, the Australian Federal Government has recognized the urgent need for these changes, and the progress is underway.

The Urgent Need for Reforms:

  1. Safety First in Family Law: One of the key issues has been the presumption of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ introduced in the Family Law Act in 2006. This presumption has, in some cases, been misused by violent individuals to exert power and control over shared parenting decisions. It has pressured many mothers into agreeing to parenting arrangements that can put children at risk.
  2. Addressing Ongoing Conflict and Coercive Control: The reforms aim to eliminate the use of family law and parenting arrangements to prolong conflicts and coercive control behaviours. This change will shift the focus towards decisions that are genuinely in the best interests of children.
  3. Improved Outcomes for All: These reforms will lead to better outcomes for all children and families involved in the family law system, promoting safety, well-being, and the best interests of the child.

The Final Outcomes of the Reforms

The Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 has now been passed by the Australian Parliament, marking a significant step toward re-focusing the family law system on the best interests of children and the safety of caregivers.

Key Reforms in the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023:

  • Prioritising the Best Interests of Children: The overriding priority for the family law system is now the best interests of children. This change is fundamental in ensuring that decisions made within the family law system prioritize the safety and well-being of children.
  • Enhanced Handling of Family Violence: The reforms improve the way courts handle family violence, domestic violence, and abuse, ensuring that these critical factors are appropriately addressed within legal proceedings.
  • Shared Parenting Orders: The principles underpinning shared parenting orders are clarified and reformed. This change aims to reduce the misuse of these provisions and shift the focus to safety and the genuine best interests of children.
  • Reducing Legal Coercion and Systems Abuse: The courts are now better equipped to restrain parties from legal coercion and vexatious applications. This step minimizes the risk of children and caregivers being forced into dangerous situations.
  • Representation of Children: Independent lawyers will consult with and represent children more meaningfully, ensuring that the voices and interests of children are genuinely considered in family law matters.
  • Greater Accountability for Family Reports: A pathway for greater accountability around family reports in legal proceedings has been created, offering transparency and reliability in the family law system.
  • Compliance with International Standards: These reforms better align Australia’s family law system with its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, emphasizing the importance of children’s rights and well-being.

Elena Rosenman, Chair of Women’s Legal Services Australia, commended the Federal Government and Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC for prioritising these reforms and consulting widely with the community. These changes are significant steps forward in supporting parents and caregivers as they navigate the family law system during difficult times.

These reforms aim to create a safer and more child-centric family law system, ensuring that the well-being and safety of children remain at the forefront of all legal proceedings. However, it’s important to note that while legal reforms are essential, additional resources are also needed to support those who require legal advice and representation in family law matters.