Domestic abusers will be barred from repeatedly dragging their victims through courts and a legal presumption of shared parenting responsibilities will be scrapped in what domestic violence campaigners say will prevent partners from weaponising the courts against their families.

An exposure draft of family law amendments released by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus aims to put children’s welfare at the heart of legal decisions by replacing complex factors judges need to consider with streamlined principles surrounding the child’s best interests.

Courts will be given a new power to restrain someone from persistently filing family law applications against a partner if it is likely to cause them harm.

Once this order is in place, further applications would first be assessed to ensure that they are not “vexatious, frivolous or an abuse of proceedings”.

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This report produced by AIFS and ANROWS sets out insights from three parts of a four-part research program which summarises the views of legal professionals and judicial officers. The report sets out findings from contravention matter court file analysis, an online survey of separated parents with parenting orders and an analysis of international approaches, and synthesises findings from all four parts of the research.

Among other things, it finds a lack of mechanisms in the family law system to monitor the implementation of parenting orders, and that the family law system is not well equipped to adapt to issues with parenting orders either.

Read the report here

Kids are at the heart of many family law disputes.  The “best interests of the child” are enshrined in our family law legislation as the paramount consideration when making parenting arrangements.

Over the past decade, there’s been much debate about whether or not our family law system really listens to how children feel about arrangements that are made for their care. How well are children’s voices heard in family law matters that affect them?

And there’s consensus that reform is needed to how our family law system operates, in order to produce better outcomes for children.  The only real question now is: how will change be practically achieved?

When the recent spate of Government family law inquiries was completed, various recommendations and official responses were made on many different aspects of the family law system, including the subject of children’s participation.

Several recommendations on this were made for the Government to consider, and in turn, in its responses the Government flagged the intention to bring about reform in this area, but cited the need for more research to guide policy.

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The Lighthouse model is an innovative approach dedicated to helping families navigate the family law system with a focus on risk screening.

The Lighthouse model is an innovative approach taken by the Courts to screen for and manage risk, with a primary focus on improving outcomes for families involved in the family law system.

The Lighthouse model was initially piloted in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta family law registries, and has now been expanded to include all 15 family law registries for parenting and parenting and financial cases, as follows: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong.

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Survivors of family violence are often left with limited housing options once they leave the relationship. PCLC have seen many examples of women settling for less than half the joint property value where assets are held only in the name of their partner and the women are unaware of their legal rights over the property. At least 5% of our family law clients in the past year came to us with evidence of property ownership, but none were able to retain this post financial settlement and were often forced into seeking social housing.  

Through a pilot program completed earlier this year, PCLC assisted women affected by family violence to access a more equitable share of assets.  During the pilot, a total of 43 women were assisted, with 20 receiving ongoing support and a monetary benefit of $1,177,673 resulting in significant financial stability to the families involved. While PCLC is continuing to provide legal assistance to a small number of women with small pool property claims, at present we only have limited ability to assist.

PCLC is advocating for additional funding for legal and financial planning support for women who have survived family violence and are in the process of financial separation. PCLC is also advocating that the federal government makes good on a pre-election promise to establish a shared equity scheme to help people on moderate incomes to secure home loans with the government taking a stake in the property, and that these women be targeted as priority beneficiaries.

In October, Peninsula Community Legal Centre commenced providing legal services at Frankston Orange Door, the Victorian government family violence services hub. The demand for legal assistance for victim survivors of family violence has continued to rise due to an increase in the rate of family violence and significant backlogs of family violence matters in the Magistrates Court as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres is advocating for community legal services to be embedded in the Orange Door network across the state to meet this rising demand.  

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