The Albanese government has recently announced two legislative reforms to make the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) safer for children. The proposed changes have been met with mixed reactions from family law professionals and experts discussing the proposed legislations possible benefits and drawbacks. The Ramsden Family Law team weigh up in this article the pros and cons of the newly proposed family law reforms.
Overall, the parenting framework in the Family Law Act is designed to ensure that the child’s best interests are prioritised in parenting arrangements. Indeed, ensuring the children’s best interests are met is the overarching and paramount purpose of the legislation. In an already stressful and traumatic circumstance, the separation and breakdown of a relationship and family does not need to be further complicated, noting the current framework has experienced some criticism, with some calling it too complex and confusing in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia merger in September 2021.
The reforms are suggested in an attempt to ensure the current provisions are better understood and more effective. To that end, the Albanese government has reviewed the framework and announced two draft legislative bills, the Family Law Amendments Bill 2023 and the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023. The Attorney-General’s website has also published media releases summarising the bills that can be found here and here. The bills suggest two legislative reforms aiming to make the Family Law Act safer and simpler for children, however the new reforms have been met with scepticism and controversy.
Proposed changes to the family law system raise concerns
There are a number of changes that the legislative bills propose making to the Family Law Act, some more controversial than others.
One proposed change is to repeal the presumption of “equal shared parental responsibility”, that was introduced in 2005 as a reform initiative of the Howard government in an attempt to confront the historical prejudice often experienced by fathers in parenting and custody disputes. Family law professionals across Australia are raising concerns over this proposed change to the family law system, concerned that to repeal the presumption of “equal shared responsibility” may make it harder for parents, especially fathers, to have their voices heard and acknowledged in court.
The reforms also suggests that Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) meet directly with a child (so long as the child is not under the age of 5 years) when appointed in a parenting matter. The current law allows for ICLs to act on behalf of a child without needing to have met with or spoken with the child. The reform seeks to centre and prioritise children’s views and opinions in parenting proceedings in order to better represent their best interests.
The Law Council of Australia has also expressed concerns, reminding the Commonwealth that the family law system, particularly the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the legal assistance sector, needs a significant boost in funding to meet the increased obligations arising from the proposed reforms. The proposal for all children over 5 to meet specifically with an ICL unless there are exceptional circumstances might lead to a significant cost increase in having the ICL undertake face-to-face interviews. As many children’s matters are funded through legal aid, there will be a need to uplift funding to Legal Aid over a longer term to enable the ICL to undertake this work. Furthermore, many family law matters are determined in regional locations, and the ICL is not always located in the region where the children live. Therefore, mechanisms will need to be implemented to allow personal, face-to-face meetings to occur.
Pros and Cons of the Proposed Reforms
The proposed changes to the Family Law Act have both pros and cons. The key benefit is that the reforms seek to make the law safer and simpler for children. They aim to ensure that children’s voices are heard in parenting and custody disputes and that the child’s best interests are prioritised. However, the proposed reforms also have potential drawbacks. The shift towards listening to children may make it harder for parents, particularly fathers, to have their voices heard in court, especially in cases where abuse allegations are made. The increased obligations arising from the proposed reforms may also require a significant boost in funding, which may eventually become available, however there is likely to be a shortfall in the short-term.
RAMSDEN FAMILY LAWYERS – HOW WE CAN HELP WITH THE NEW REFORMS
The proposed changes to the Family Law Act seek to make the law safer for children and ensure their voices are heard in parenting and custody disputes. However, the reforms have also raised concerns among family law professionals, particularly regarding the potential impact on fathers’ ability to have their voices heard in court. The government needs to consider these concerns and find a balance between protecting children’s safety and wellbeing and ensuring that both parents have a fair and just hearing in custody disputes.
The team at Ramsden Family Law has extensive experience dealing with family law matters, including custody disputes. Our team of legal professionals is committed to providing clients with the best possible legal advice and representation. We understand the complexities, stress and trauma of family law matters and are dedicated to protecting our client’s rights and obligations. If you are concerned about the impact of the proposed changes to the Family Law Act on your case, our legal experts can provide you with comprehensive advice and guidance. We can help you understand the legal implications of the proposed changes and how they may impact your rights as a parent or your child’s wellbeing. Our team of lawyers can also represent you in court and ensure that your voice is heard in custody disputes. We will work to ensure that your case is presented fairly and justly and your rights and obligations are upheld and protected.
In addition, we can also assist you with other family law matters, including divorce, property settlements, and child support. We offer a range of legal services to meet our client’s needs and provide them with the support they require during what can be a difficult and emotional time. If you require legal assistance with a family law matter, do not hesitate to contact Ramsden Family Law. Our experienced and dedicated legal professionals are here to assist you and provide you with the best possible legal advice and representation.