In this Alert, Partner Rachael Murray and Associate Fraser
Murray discuss the results of an evaluation of the 2012 amendments
to the Family Law Act which were designed to improve
responses to family violence and child abuse. While the evaluation
findings suggest that the changes implemented are a "step in
the right direction", the question remains whether the family
law community is doing enough to protect those most vulnerable.
In 2012, significant amendments were made to the Family Law
Act with a view to improving both the identification of family
violence and the family law system's response (including
screening practices) to family violence and child safety concerns
in parenting matters.
Some two years following the implementation of the amendments,
an evaluation commissioned by the Commonwealth
Attorney-General's Department has been undertaken and the
results indicate that the family violence amendments have
influenced a positive shift towards more scrutiny of parenting
arrangements. The evaluation was conducted based on data gathered
from 12,198 separated parents; a study examining the views of 653
family law professionals; and analysis of 1,892 Family Law Court
The findings of the evaluation are contained in three reports,
shortly to be released to the public:
"Responding to Family Violence": A study of
more than 650 professionals dealing with family violence;
"Experiences of separated parents study": A
study examining the experiences of 6,119 separated parents prior to
the reforms and 6,079 post implementation; and
"The Court outcomes project": An analysis of
court administrative data from 1,892 case files.
In a recently released statement, Dr Rae Kaspiew, a senior
research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies has
the findings demonstrate that one in five parents had concerns
for their safety or their children as a result of ongoing contact
with the other parent.
an analysis of Family Law Court files revealed that there are
fewer children living in shared care arrangements in cases
involving allegations of child abuse (11%), than prior to the
reforms in 2012 (19%).
the data based on parents' reports also shows that there is
a strong association between arrangements involving no time or
daytime only between a parent and a child where there are safety
concerns among separated parents generally.However, there are some
arrangements involving more time than this for children in these
circumstances (though it is important that a parent seeks help if
they are worried about their safety or their children's
Of significant interest (particularly to those parties
contemplating the institution of proceedings or already in the
Court queue awaiting determination of their matter) of cases were
litigated and determined by a Judge, orders for shared parental
responsibility in cases involving violence or allegations of
violence have decreased from 51% to 40%, and that orders for
supervised time with a parent remained stable and were rare. The
making of orders for no face-to-face time between parents and
children remains a rare outcome.
The need for improvement in practice was evident in the finding
that after the reforms, three in ten separated parents interviewed
said they had "never been asked" about family
violence or safety concerns when using dispute resolution that
lawyers and courts used to resolve parenting matters. Perhaps not
surprisingly the findings suggest a need for a sharper focus on
family violence, child abuse and other factors that may suggest
risk, such as substance misuse or mental health issues.
The research highlights reservations among professionals within
the family law system about the capacity of the system to
adequately deal with cases involving family violence or child abuse
concerns. Professionals are worried about the burden on child
protection agencies and delays for the children involved.
The research also demonstrates that:
further refinements in practice are required, along with the
development of more effective screening processes which still have
some way to go.
While there has been greater emphasis on screening
(particularly among lawyers and courts) this has not translated
into a perception by parents that their concerns about safety were
appropriately dealt with.To achieve this, the family law system
needs better tools for assessing these issues, professionals need
more training and there needs to be a way of prioritising the most
To read a more detailed summary of the evaluation,
Sect.117 can deal with false statements and knowingly making false allegations of violence could justify a costs order.
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