At the end of January this year, the Albanese Government released draft legislation to make the Family Law Act simpler and safer for separating families and their children.
This has been in response to several recent inquiries such as the 2019 Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry and the 2021 Parliamentary Joint Select Committee inquiry, which highlighted a number of challenges facing the family law system. These challenges include issues such as extensive court delays, prolonged litigation, inaccessible support services and inadequate protection for people at risk of family violence.
The draft Family Law Amendment Bill will place the best interests of children at the centre of the family law system. Having a child-focused framework will result in streamlining the court process where parenting agreements cannot be amicably reached by separating parents.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in his press release “Currently, custody arrangements require the court to consider two primary factors and thirteen additional factors; and be guided by four objects, five principles and one presumption. The proposed reforms replace these with six simple ‘best interests’ factors for courts to decide what the best parenting arrangements are for each child.”
These new best interest factors include:
- considering the safety of the child in any custody dispute
- the ability for either parent to provide care for their child
- the benefit for a child in maintaining a relationship with their parents
- the child’s own views on the arrangements.
The draft legislation includes:
- Repealing the provision of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ which is often misunderstood, causing lengthy litigation periods and unnecessary parental conflict
- Introducing a requirement that Independent Children’s Lawyers meet directly with the children on being appointed
- Providing greater powers to the courts to protect parties and children from the harmful effects of protracted and adversarial litigation
- Updating the definition of ‘member of the family’ in the Family Law Act to be inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship
- Simplifying the compliance and enforcement provisions for all child-related orders
- Enabling Government to establish schemes that set requirements for family law report writers via the creation of regulation-making powers
Alongside this announcement, a consultation paper was also released, offering stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback to these proposed amendments.
You can read more about these proposed reforms on the Law Society Journal here.