Victoria Legal Aid

Proposed changes to the Family Law Act 1975 to place children at the centre of the family law system

Our submission in response to the draft Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 consultation supports the policy intent of the amendments, to ensure the needs of children are central to all decision making,

Monday 6 March 2023 8:54pm

We envision a family law system that is safe, accessible, inclusive and that centres the needs of children and adult victim-survivors of violence, who are predominantly women.

However, the current Family Law Act 1975 is vastly out of date. In its current state it doesn’t recognise the diversity of modern family structures or respond adequately to matters involving family violence. It is confusing for families to navigate and can exacerbate safety risks for victim-survivors of family violence.

Last month we provided a submission to thedraft Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 consultationExternal Link , with our support for changes to the Family Law Act, which aim to ensure the best interests of children are prioritised and placed at the centre of the family law system.

'We support the modernisation of the Act to make it fit for purpose for today’s court users, recognising that a majority of cases that go through court involve allegations of family violence,' says Gayathri Paramasivam, Associate Director Family Law.

'These reforms will help create a system that puts the best interests and safety of children at the centre, recognises that today’s family structures are diverse, promotes inclusion and accessibility and improves system navigation.'

'We believe that the proposed changes will lead to a simpler, safer and more child-focused approach to settling parenting disputes,' said Gayathri.

In our role providing legal assistance in the most complex family law matters, on a daily basis we see opportunities to improve how the law operates to help separating families and to support the best interests of children.

'We are hopeful that for our clients, who are among the most marginalised and disadvantaged in the community, these changes will mean their experience through the family law system will be less confusing and traumatic,' says Bernadette Grandinetti, Acting Program Manager Family Law Services.

'National Legal Aid data shows that family violence is a factor in nearly 80 per cent of legally aided cases before the family law courts.'

'Too many times we have seen that the current Family Law Act 1975 has not been responsive enough to family violence, has been open to abuse of process that exacerbates safety risks for victim-survivors and has left our clients confused about their rights and responsibilities.'

From our position of experience and expertise, we broadly agree with the policy intent of the amendments and have provided additional feedback to address issues that we commonly experience.

Key points in our submission

  • Welcoming the repeal of the presumption of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’, as it is confusing and commonly misinterpreted as equal shared time. We believe this change will facilitate a renewed focus on safety, risk and the best interests of children.
  • Support for simplifying the factors for determining what is in a child’s best interests, as the current two-tier system is difficult to understand. We welcome simplified factors written in plain language, to make it easier for parents to understand legal advice about this.
  • Welcoming the expansion of definitions of ‘member of the family’ and ‘relative’, particularly the amendments which relate to First Nations families.
  • Supporting the policy intent for ensuring the voices of children are heard, through the requirement for an Independent Children’s Lawyer to meet with the child.
  • Welcoming changes that prevent improper use or abuse of the family law system, which can exacerbate safety risks for victim-survivors and has left our clients confused about their rights and responsibilities.

More information

Read our submission to the Australian Government Attorney General’s DepartmentExternal Link .

Reviewed 07 March 2023