Passage of landmark family law reforms
The Parliament has today passed two significant pieces of legislation to make Australia’s family law system simpler, safer and more accessible for separating families and their children.
Family Law Amendment Bill
The Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 will ensure the best interests of children are at the centre of all parenting decisions made inside or outside the courtroom and will make the system easier to navigate.
Significantly, the amendments passed today repeal the presumption of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ provisions in the Family Law Act 1975. In 2017, a bipartisan parliamentary committee found that these provisions were confusing, that they failed to prioritise the safety of children and that they were being improperly applied in a way that put children at risk. These findings are consistent with the overwhelming consensus of family law experts.
Under the new laws, parenting decisions will have to be based solely on what is in the best interests of the child.
The new laws also include:
- requiring Independent Children’s Lawyers to meet directly with children;
- greater powers to protect parties and children from harmful effects of protracted and adversarial litigation;
- a definition of ‘member of the family’ in the Family Law Act that is inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship;
- simplified compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders;
- powers to enable government to regulate family report writers;
- ensuring that children’s voices are heard more easily in matters under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
These reforms are long overdue and will improve the lives of Australian families. In the nine years the former government was in office there were more than two dozen reviews into the family law system, with hundreds of recommendations that were simply ignored.
The Albanese Government is ensuring separating families are safer by acting where the former government failed to deliver for so many years.
Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023
The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023 will ensure courts have access to the full picture of family safety risk in order to prioritise the safety of children and families, particularly in circumstances where there is risk of child abuse, neglect or family violence.
This important change progresses the Government’s commitment to ending gender-based violence in a generation.
- establishes two new information sharing orders to allow courts to directly and quickly seek information from police, child protection and firearms agencies about family violence, child abuse and neglect that could place children at risk;
- allows a court to make these orders at any point during proceedings so information is accurate and up-to-date; and
- will ensure sensitive information is only disclosed in a safe and appropriate manner.
This Bill is informed by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2019 report Family Law for the Future – An inquiry into the Family Law System and reflects the Government Response to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System.
The Government’s legislation will see more family law matters resolved quickly, safely and inexpensively without compromising the safety of family members.
The Government recognises the advocacy of those with lived experiences of family and domestic violence. Their stories have been central to the development and passage of these important reforms and I thank them for their contributions.
These long-overdue reforms are significant but we know there is more work to be done. An exposure draft of a second Family Law Bill has already been released for consultation to further improve the family law system. Read about these further reforms.