On the 19th of October 2023, a momentous event unfolded in the world of family law in Australia. The Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 was passed, bringing with it a wave of significant changes that promise to reshape the landscape of family law in our country. At Freedom Family Law, we believe that staying informed about these changes is essential, and we’re here to provide you with an overview of what this bill means for Australian families.
A Focus on the Best Interests of the Child
One of the most pivotal aspects of the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 is the heightened focus on the best interests of the child. This principle has always been at the heart of family law, and these amendments further fortify it. The bill reconsiders the factors which assist the Court in determining the “best interest” of the child, ensuring that these factors are more precise and relevant to the well-being of the child.
Removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and equal time
Previously, the Act had a presumption that parents should have equal shared parental responsibility for the major long term decisions for a child. That presumption was required to be rebutted (except in certain circumstances where the presumption did not apply). This bill does away with that presumption and the Court will need to consider whether equal shared parental responsibility is in the best interest of the child, or whether sole parental responsibility is in the best interest of the child.
The bill has similarly done away with the assumption that by default, equal time with both parents is in the best interest of the child. The Court will no longer start from a place of equal time and decision making responsibility and work backwards from there, it will need to determine what arrangements are in the child’s best interest based on the pathway set out in the legislation.
Emphasising Alternative Dispute Resolution
The amendments also underscore the importance of alternative dispute resolution methods in family law matters. Litigation in family law cases can be emotionally taxing, lengthy, and expensive. Therefore, the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 encourages families to explore mediation, counselling, and other dispute resolution options to help find mutually agreeable solutions outside the courtroom. These alternatives can reduce the emotional stress on families and alleviate the strain on the already overburdened court system.
Protection for Vulnerable People
The 2023 amendments also seek to enhance protection for vulnerable family members, particularly in cases of domestic violence. The legislation provides more robust provisions for ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals subjected to family violence. It also recognizes that family violence can have significant and lasting effects on children, and the amendments prioritize their protection.
Additionally, the amendments introduce more comprehensive measures to deal with issues of financial abuse, ensuring that one party is not unfairly disadvantaged in property settlements due to coercion or manipulation by the other party.
Other Changes to the Family Law Act 1975
In addition to the points mentioned earlier, the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 introduces several other major changes to the Family Law Act 1975. These include:
- Direct Meetings with Children: Independent Children’s Lawyers are now required to meet directly with children, ensuring their voices are heard in legal proceedings.
- Inclusive Definition of ‘Member of the Family’: The bill includes a definition of ‘member of the family’ that is inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship.
- Simplified Compliance and Enforcement: The amendments simplify compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders, making it easier for families to navigate these processes.
- Regulation of Family Report Writers: The bill provides powers to enable the government to regulate family report writers, ensuring high standards of professionalism and ethics. The bill is not itself regulation of family report writers and further work will need to be undertaken by the government to action this.
- Children’s Voices in International Child Abduction Cases: The amendments aim to ensure that children’s voices are heard more easily in matters under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 marks a significant shift in family law in Australia, one that holds the promise of a more equitable, just, and supportive legal framework. By emphasizing the best interests of the child, alternative dispute resolution, protection for vulnerable family members, and recognition of diverse family structures, along with other major changes, the bill is paving the way for a more compassionate and resilient society. At Freedom Family Law , we are dedicated to guiding our clients through these changes and helping them navigate the evolving landscape of family law. If you have questions or concerns about how the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 may affect your family, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to support you every step of the way.