Supporting important amendments to the Family Law Act 1975

Supporting important amendments to the Family Law Act 1975

Friday, 23 February 2018

We support three important changes to the Family Law Act that will minimise confusion for families with complex legal needs, who can end up in both the Commonwealth family law courts and the state family violence or child protection courts.

The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017 is currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation committee.

In our submission and in evidence before the committee today, we recommend support for the amendments, but also suggest further changes to ensure they are implemented effectively.

The amendments will:

  • clarify that summary courts like the Victorian Children’s Court can also make family law orders
  • expand the jurisdiction of state and territory courts to resolve family law property matters up to a higher amount than previously allowed
  • remove the very short time limit on changes to a family law order that is put in place when a state or territory court decides to change that order in the process of making a family violence intervention order for the same family.

These proposed changes will move us closer to the ‘one court’ principle.

This principle seeks to minimise the confusion for families who have legal issues that cross over the family law, family violence and child protection jurisdictions, and at present need to navigate three different courts. It says that if a family is already involved with one court, we should try to resolve as many of the issues affecting that family as possible in that one court, rather than making them move between different courts.

A small but significant number of our clients are involved in multiple proceedings across different courts. These amendments will enable state child protection and family violence courts to stabilise or resolve family law disputes where they sit alongside family violence and child protection legal issues.  

It will be appropriate for some complex cases to continue to be heard in the Commonwealth family law courts, and there is more that can be done to support these families. We have previously made recommendations and will continue to advocate for improvements in the upcoming Australian Law Reform Commission review of the family law system.

The removal of the 21-day time limit when a decision is made by a state or territory court to revive, vary or suspend a family law order when a new family violence intervention order is made, will help to keep children safe. It means the care and contact arrangements for children will be less uncertain. However, it remains important that appropriate family law orders, made on the basis of expert reports and expertise, are not unwittingly altered.

Therefore, we recommend the committee support our calls for family law training for judicial officers, court staff, child protection workers and lawyers in state and territory courts to help them make informed decisions. We also recommend additional resourcing for the courts and legal aid services to manage increased family law workload and demand at the state level. Both would support the effective implementation of the amendments.

If passed, the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017 will introduce changes that we have previously advocated for, and that have been recommended by the Royal Commission into Family Violence, Victorian Coroner’s Court, Australian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions, and the Family Law Council.

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