Children will be put at the centre of proposed law reforms to make court processes for separating families simpler and safer.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the current parenting framework in the Family Law Act was complex, confusing and in some cases led to unsafe parenting arrangements.
Mr Dreyfus introduced the reforms to parliament’s lower house on Wednesday which aim to resolve family law matters quickly and inexpensively while not impacting the safety of those involved.
“The family law system has a fundamental impact on the lives of many Australians,” he told parliament.
“The government has committed to ensuring it is safer, more accessible, simpler to use and delivers justice and fairness for all Australian families.”
The proposed amendment to existing family law would ensure children’s best interests were upheld within the court system.
The bill would repeal a misunderstood presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and instead make clear the best interest of the child was paramount to the court’s decisions.
Mr Dreyfus said the assumption of shared parenting rights had created a confusing situation and took the focus away from what was best for the child.
He said this had led to an “unacceptable” situation where abusive partners had false belief they had a right to equal time, against the wishes of the other parent and their children.
“There have been multiple inquiries and reports over the last decade … and very many of them drew attention to this presumption of shared parental responsibility,” he told reporters.
“We think it’s high time that it was repealed.”
The bill would also introduce a requirement for independent children’s lawyers to meet directly with children and make the consequences of non-compliance with parenting orders clearer.
Specific provisions would also ensure courts considered the rights of Indigenous children to maintain their connection to their family, community, culture, country and language.
While most family separations did not end up in the court system, Mr Dreyfus said for those that do, the experience can be more traumatic than it needs to be and significantly impacts children.
He said the bill recognised the importance of the relationship between a child and both of their parents and would ensure the court continued to take this into account when making parenting orders.
Other important measures would make definitions of ‘family’ and ‘relative’ clearer as they relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts, strengthen protections for victims of family violence and clarify the law which prohibits publishing of family law information.
Mr Dreyfus said the bill would also bring forward to 2024 a review of the merged family court structure to ensure it is working as intended.
(Australian Associated Press)