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Attorney General releases key reports that confirm shared parental responsibility is widely supported


Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, today released key reports examining the operation of the family law system and how the family law courts deal with cases involving family violence.

The reports provide a comprehensive and objective analysis of the family law system against the aim of providing fair and sustainable solutions for families, while ensuring the safety and wellbeing
of children, Mr McClelland said.

The Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) looks at the impact of changes which included:
 introducing a presumption of shared parental responsibility into the Family Law Act 1975;
 requiring separating parents to attend family dispute resolution before going to court, with some limited exceptions, including where there were issues relating to family violence; and
 establishing Family Relationship Centres to provide information, advice and assistance to families with relationship difficulties.

The AIFS evaluation finds that the principle of shared parental responsibility is widely supported, although it is often misconstrued as requiring equal shared care time and, according to AIFS, has led to unrealistic expectations among some parents.

The AIFS evaluation reports that the majority of parents in shared care arrangements believed they were working well, but there were concerns where ongoing fear of violence existed.

In addition, there has been a shift away from using the family law courts, with more separated parents using family dispute resolution services and consequently fewer disputes being resolved through litigation.

The Family Courts Violence Review, conducted by Professor Richard Chisholm AM, and Improving Responses to Family Violence in the Family Law System, conducted by the Family Law Council, examines the effectiveness of legislation as well as court practices and procedures in casesinvolving family violence.

Importantly, both the AIFS evaluation and these reviews find that the family law system has some way to go in effectively responding to issues relating to family violence.

The reports highlight issues relating to the screening and handling of family violence as well as legislative provisions that potentially deter the disclosure of allegations.

The Government is committed to improving the family law system so that separated families can effectively access the help they need and disputes can be resolved in the best interests of children.

The Government will carefully consider the findings and recommendations of these reports, as well as other associated research, before outlining its response in due course.

Copies of the reports are available on the Attorney General's Department website or below:
Media Contact: Adam Siddique Phone: 0407 473 630

From AIFS report summary

This report was commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney-Generals Department and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

The authors would like to acknowledge and thank all of those who participated in or assisted with the evaluation, including: the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Magistrates Court, the Family Court of Western Australia, the Child Support Agency, family relationship service providers, Family Relationship Services Australia, Council on the Aging New South Wales, Mensline Australia and the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia.

We also acknowledge the helpful assistance of staff from the Australian Government Attorney-Generals Department and the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

While many staff at Australian Institute of Family Studies contributed to the fieldwork and report, we especially would like to acknowledge Leah Bromfield, Ben Edwards, Daryl Higgins, Melissa Johnstone, Robyn Parker, Antonia Quadara, Nick Richardson, Elly Robinson, Jennifer Russell, Diana Smart, Sarah Williams and Suzie Vassallo.

We would particularly like to acknowledge the major contribution made by Associate Professor Bruce Smyth to the development of the Evaluation Framework and design of a number of the studies. We are also grateful to Professor Richard Chisholm, who assisted in the development of the Evaluation Framework. Associate Professor Smyth and Professor Chisholm also made major contributions to the analysis of the Family Lawyers Survey 2006.

We extend special thanks to Professor Alan Hayes, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, for his expertise, advice, insightful comments on the report and unwavering support at all times.

Of course, the evaluation would not have been possible without the 28,000 people who provided information about their lives or professional experiences during the course of the evaluation, including parents, grandparents, family relationship service staff, lawyers, judicial officers, family consultants and professional staff in the three family courts. Without this generous willingness to participate, the evaluation would not have been possible.

AIFS Summary Report

Chisholm Report

Family Law Council report

AG Media release


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