With the aim of providing better protection to children at risk of family violence the Federal Parliament has passed the Family Law Legislation (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 which amends the Family Law Act 1975 (“the Act”). The amendments came into effect on 7 June 2012. Whilst the Act continues to promote a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents the changes allow the Court to give greater weight to protection from harm when determining what is in a child’s best interest.
Where there is no risk of violence or abuse and it is in the child’s best interest the Courts will continue to apply the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and consider equal time or, as the case requires, substantial and significant time with the parents. The amendments are designed to ensure that appropriate action is taken to prioritise the safety of the child. This is achieved by encouraging the reporting family violence to the Court so that the Court has all the evidence before it when making a parenting order and by referring the matter to child welfare authorities where appropriate so that the family violence issue can be appropriately addressed.
The amendments introduce a new broader definition of ‘family violence’ and ‘abuse’ which set out what behaviour is unacceptable. These definitions give the Court guidance about ‘family violence’ and help judicial officers to better consider behaviour within its factual context.
Many victims of family violence were in the past faced the dilemma of reporting violence to the Court with the risk of losing their children or staying silent. The amendments help to encourage reporting. The Act places a number of positive obligations on people to report an allegation of child abuse. However, there remain measures to stop people making false allegations including the power to award costs where a party knowingly makes a false statement. It is also an offence to knowingly make a false statement during Court proceedings.
If you would like further information please contact Vesna Pocuca, Solicitor.