Victoria Legal Aid

A safer, clearer pathway for families: our evidence in support of the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023

The Family Law Amendment Bill provides an opportunity to put the best interests and safety of children at the centre when resolving parenting disputes.

Friday 11 August 2023 12:10am

We want the family law system to be safe, accessible, inclusive and centred around the needs of children and adult victim-survivors of violence, who are predominantly women.

Today Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law Joanna Fletcher OAM and Program Manager of Family Law Services Bernadette Grandinetti gave evidence to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee at a public hearing into the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023External Link .

Joanna says we strongly support the policy intent behind the Ammendment Bill.

‘The new legislation is an opportunity to put the best interests and safety of children at the centre when resolving parenting disputes.

‘While most family law matters are resolved outside of court, legally aided family law cases often involve family violence, child abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse and/or cognitive impairment issues.

‘The new legislation will work to prevent system abuse, improving safety for children and victim-survivors of family violence.’

The Bill also aligns with the commitments made by all state and territory governments and the federal government to do more to protect women and children from violence and abuse. These commitments are enshrined in the The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032External Link and the The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021–2031External Link .

We support 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.

We also support changes that prevent improper use or abuse of the family law system, which can exacerbate safety risks for victim-survivors of family violence.

Simplifying the factors for determining what is in the best interests of children will also make it easier for parents to understand legal advice.

Joanna said that in too many cases the current Family Law Act 1975:

  • has not been responsive enough to family violence, including systems abuse that exacerbates safety risks for victim-survivors
  • is confusing, leading to misconceptions about parties’ rights and responsibilities.

‘In our submission to the committee, we shared the experience of a former client ‘Samantha’. We see many cases similar to ‘Samantha’s’ where partners who have been found to have perpetrated violence in state-based court processes, can continue patterns of coercive control and systems abuse through family law processes’.

‘We are hopeful that for our clients, who are among the most marginalised members of the community, these changes will mean their experiences of the family law system will be less confusing and traumatic, leading to safer outcomes for both parents and children.'

More information

Read more about why we support the Family Law Amendment Bill.

Read our submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee (download item 26)External Link .

Reviewed 11 August 2023