Family Law Act gets Tougher on Violence
Recent amendments to the Family Law Act provide better protection for children and families at risk of violence and abuse.
The changes to the Family Law Act were driven by various reviews of how Australian Law deals with domestic violence, a process which was accelerated following the death of a young girl thrown from Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge to her death by her father in 2009.
The purpose for the amendments was to try to more adequately protect children and other family members from family violence and child abuse. The key amendments are:
- prioritise the safety of children in parenting matters;
- to change the definitions of abuse and family violence to better capture harmful behaviour;
- to strengthen advisers’ obligations by requiring family consultants, family counsellors, family dispute resolution practitioners and legal practitioners to prioritise the safety of children;
- to ensure the Courts have better access to evidence of abuse and family violence by improving reporting requirements; and
- to make is easier for State and Territory trial protection authorities to assist in family law proceedings where appropriate.
It is envisioned that the wider definition of abuse and family violence will allow children suffering serious psychological harm or serious neglect being captured by the definition.
The definition of family violence removes the need for the victim to be reasonably fearful, therefore, widening the definition. Family violence will not only include physical assaults, but also repeated derogatory taunts, unreasonably denying a family member their financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had, unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of a family member, his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support or preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture.
This will allow a greater number of behaviours experienced by victims of family violence to come under the new definitions. For example, threats of suicide or self harm whilst not mentioned in the definition of family violence, will be captured by the definition where the threat is intended to coerce, control or cause a family member to be fearful. More significantly, in the event a family member is “exposed” to family violence i.e. if they see, hear or otherwise experience the effects of family violence, they will be a victim under the legislation.
The significant legislative changes reflect the current social attitude and approach towards family violence no longer being accepted as the social norm. Hopefully, the reforms will strengthen the rights of victims to family violence in the Family Court and allow the Court to consider more subtle types of family violence suffered by children and others.
If you, your family or friends wish to enquire about a similar circumstance, please email us on our "Ask Us a Question" feature or call (02) 4228 8288 to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers.