Draft Family Violence Bill in Plain English
Since the Howard government introduced family law reforms in 2006, DVRCV and other services have been raising concerns about how victims of violence are treated in family law. The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2010 was released for public consultation on 11 November, with a number of key changes. DVRCV welcomes these changes and agrees with Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland's statement that:
The safety of children is of critical importance in the family law system.
Family law evaluated
These proposed changes to Australian family law are in response to several reports and evaluations of our family law system. The reports show that the current family law system fails to adequately protect mothers and children from ex-partners and fathers who are violent. The reports are:
- Australian Institute of Family Studies evaluation of the family law reforms
- Family Law Council's reports to the Attorney-General
- Professor Richard Chisolm's Family Courts Violence review
Key changes in the draft Bill
Prioritise safety of children over a meaningful relationship with both parents
Under the current Family Law Act, family courts must consider two primary considerations when determining the best interests of the child:
- the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents
- the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm or exposure to family violence.
The Bill proposes giving greater weight to protecting the child from harm, over the benefit of having a meaningful relationship with each parent. When there are no safety concerns, a meaningful relationship is considered as equally important. As Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said:
The proposed legislative changes will not undermine the effectiveness of the Family Law Act in promoting a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both parents...
Broaden what is 'family violence'
The current definition of family violence requires a person ‘reasonably to fear’ for their personal wellbeing or safety. DVRCV has been concerned about how victims demonstrate that their fears are ‘reasonable’. The Bill proposes a new definition of ‘family violence’ that better describes the types of behaviour that make up family violence, including behaviour that is coercive and controlling. The Bill also broadens the definition of child abuse.
Remove false allegations $
Under the current Act, if a parent has been found to have raised false allegations of violence, costs may be awarded against them. The Bill proposes getting rid of this because it can discourage people from bringing up family violence.
Remove ‘friendly parent’ factor
Has one parent made it easy for their child to have a relationship with the other parent? This is something that the current Family Law Act considers when it works out parenting arrangements. Reports indicate that this discourages victims of family violence from raising allegations of family violence or abuse, because they fear being seen as an ‘unfriendly parent’. The draft Family Violence Bill would this remove this.
Other positive changes
Other positive changes include greater responsibility being placed on lawyers, counsellors and other advisers to encourage parents to prioritise the protection of children from harm.
DVRCV will look at the draft Bill more closely and plans to make a submission in response to the Attorney General’s call for feedback. Submissions close 14 January 2011. For information about the Bill or making a submission, see www.ag.gov.au/familyviolencebill