Proposed Changes to the Family Law Act

The Federal Government in Australia is proposing significant changes to the Family Law Act in relation to parenting matters.  The changes aim to put the best interests of children at the forefront and simplify the law, as recommended by recent inquiries.

The draft Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 was released on 30 January 2023 for public consultation. The purpose of the new bill, according to the Attorney General, is to improve the safety of separated families and to prioritise the best interests of children in parenting matters. The proposed changes aim to simplify the current complex list of factors in parenting matters and to improve the process for making decisions in the best interests of children.

The proposed changes include:

  • Repeal of the ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ presumption – The government is proposing to repeal the current ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ (section 61DA of the Family Law Act) and related provisions, and to consider care-time arrangements based on the best interests of the child instead of a presumption.
  • Clearer definition of ‘best interests of the child’ – The court’s assessment of the ‘best interests of the child’ (section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975) will be reduced to six factors, with a separate factor for maintaining a connection to culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
  • Limiting changes to parenting orders – Parenting arrangements made by the court can only be changed if there is a significant change in circumstances and factors to be taken into account will be set out.
  • Considering children’s views – An Independent Children’s Lawyer will be required to meet with children in most cases to ensure their views are considered when making parenting arrangements.
  • Simplifying other areas of the law – Division 13A of the Family Law Act will be simplified to make consequences of non-compliance clearer and to limit the sharing of family law proceedings.
  • Protecting people from the harmful effects of litigation – Two new powers will be introduced, including the exclusion of records relating to health services as protected confidential and the ability of the court to stop a person from filing harmful family law applications.

The consultation period for the draft bill is open until February 27, 2023.

The outcome of the consultation and the progress of the bill will be watched closely over the course of the year.

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