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Mother with child | Changes to family law Australia | Family Law Solicitor Central Coast

What you need to know about changes to Family Law in Australia

There are important changes to family law that you and your family need to know, with the Family Law Amendment Act recently passing on 19 October 2023. These new laws have the objectives of prioritising the best interests of children and improving the overall functioning of the family law system. They are the most considerable amendments to family law since 2006, with the passing of these laws an important step in seeing family law matters resolved safely, and hopefully in a shorter timeframe.

In this blog, we’ll share what you need to know about the new changes to the Family Law Act, the impact on families, and where to get advice.

Removing the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility

One of the most significant and key changes is the removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and related equal time. Under previous laws, the term “equal shared parental responsibility” was often confused with the term “equal time” leading parents to enter potentially damaging negotiations or litigation based on mistaken assumptions about their entitlements. Under the new laws, parenting decisions must now prioritise the best interests of the child exclusively. Courts will have access to a complete picture of family safety concerns and the co-parenting dynamic in order to prioritise the safety of children and families, particularly in circumstances where there is a risk of child abuse, neglect or family violence.

A good number of commentators are expecting more bespoke parental responsibility arrangements and probably less equal time arrangements ordered by courts.

This shift in focus will have a significant impact on families by promoting healthier outcomes for children involved in parenting arrangements, sometimes referred to – albeit improperly – as ‘custody’ or ‘visitation’.

Independent Children’s Lawyers requirement

Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) are professionals who represent the interests of children in family law proceedings. Under the new laws, an ICL must meet directly with the child or children they represent. This gives the child a chance to share their views on the proceedings. Before, the ICL had the choice to meet with the child. If they didn’t, the child’s views could only be presented to the court through a report from a Court Child Expert or a private family report writer.

Dominique Markwort, Senior Associate at Seton Family Lawyers, is currently completing her ICL training, driven by her own experiences as a child and her desire to prevent children from feeling unheard in legal matters. Dominique is expected to be successfully appointed early next year.

Enhanced powers to protect parties and children

The family law reforms grant greater powers to protect parties and children from the harmful effects of prolonged and adversarial litigation. This change aims to create a more supportive and less adversarial legal environment.

Inclusive definition of ‘member of the family’

The Family Law Act now includes a comprehensive definition of ‘member of the family’ that embraces Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship. This amendment reflects a more culturally sensitive approach to family relationships.

Simplified compliance and enforcement provisions

The Family Law Amendment Act introduces simplified compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders. Strengthening the enforcement mechanisms can provide families with greater assurance that court orders related to parenting arrangements – such as who a child will live and spend time with – and child support will be upheld. This can contribute to reducing conflicts between parents and ensure the stability and well-being of children.

Facilitating children’s voices in international cases

These new laws will also emphasise the importance of ensuring that children’s voices are heard more easily in cases falling under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This ensures a more inclusive and child-centred approach in international matters.

How will it affect my family?

These new amendments to the Family Law Act ensure the best interests of children are at the centre of all parenting decisions made inside or outside the courtroom and will make the system easier to navigate. These changes aim to create a more child-focused, efficient, and fair family law system. These new laws continue to evolve, and these changes will mean certain precedence will no longer apply.

Most of the changes come into effect on 6 May 2024 for all parenting matters that are not already part-heard at the trial stage. The operation of the laws will continue to evolve in the months beyond that date because the removal of certain existing sections of the Family Law Act mean that certain precedents and authorities will no longer apply.

Do you need help with parenting orders? Contact our Central Coast family lawyers

Michael Seton and our team at Seton Family Lawyers are known for our specialisation in family law and for settling more than 98% of matters outside of court. Our team can help you understand the changes to family law and ease your mind, by guiding you to get the best possible outcome for you and your family. Contact our team today and get the help you need.

The above is not intended as legal advice, and we suggest you contact your trusted family lawyer and obtain legal advice in relation to your circumstances or matter. 

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