21st February 2024

Australia’s family law system is set to be simplified as part of a wide-ranging overhaul.

The federal government released draft legislation of the family law changes on Monday, which will aim to address large court delays and access to support services.

Under the proposed changes, custody arrangements will be determined by six “best-interest factors” for the child, including child safety, a child’s development needs as well as the preferences of the child.

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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the factors for best interests would be streamlined to make the system easier for the courts and for parents.

“These long overdue proposed reforms replace the often confusing law around parenting arrangement with a simpler child-focused framework,” he said.

The draft laws follow an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2019, as well as a parliamentary probe into the issue in 2021.

The proposed changes will also remove the presumption of “equal shared parental responsibility”, due to inquiries concluding the measure was misunderstood.

The presumption meant parents were required to consult with each other when making long-term decisions, but was often misinterpreted as creating a right to an equal amount of shared time with children.

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The laws will also introduce a requirement for independent children’s lawyers to meet with children to make sure their viewpoints were considered when court decisions are made.

Courts will be provided with greater powers to protect affected parties and children from protracted and adversarial litigation.

The changes propose a definition of what is a member of the family that would be inclusive of Indigenous concepts of family and kinship.

The changes have been welcomed by sexual, domestic and family violence prevention group Full Stop Australia.

Family lawyer and the organisation’s advocacy manager Angela Lynch said the presumption of “inflexible” shared parental responsibility led to serious abuses in the system.

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She said it enabled perpetrators to game the system and manipulated traumatised families.

“These changes will help protect victims who are in serious danger when they leave abusive relationships,” Ms Lynch said.

“The current system provides multiple opportunities for the perpetrator to engage in ongoing coercive control under the guise of following court orders.”

Full Stop Australia called for decisions to be made earlier in the court process and to ensure interim orders addressed the immediate safety risk.

It also called for better ways to remove victims of family violence away from the perpetrator.

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Public submissions on the draft bill are open until February 27.

AAP 2023

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