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Violence reforms families can trust! ... to

Violence reforms families can trust
Robert McClelland, the Attorney-General said
Australias family law system must be one that families can trust to prioritise the needs of their children, and protect them from harm.

There is strong evidence the family law system needs to respond better to family violence and child abuse and to ensure the safety of children when parents separate.

Today, I introduced the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 into Parliament  which will go a long way to seeing these improvements occur.

Its an important step in ensuring that the Family Law Act appropriately addresses safety concerns and that families accessing the family law system are able to protect their children from harm.

The Family Violence Bill responds to key reports received by the Government from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Honourable Professor Richard Chisholm AM, and the Family Law Council.

These reports make it clear: more needs to be done to protect and support families within the family law system who have experienced, or are at risk of, abuse or violence.

The reports show the Family Law Act as it currently stands imposes barriers to adequately protecting children and other family members from child abuse and family violence. We need changes because the best research shows what we already intuitively believe: that exposure to family violence and child abuse leads to poor developmental outcomes for children.

The Bill provides a clear statement that children have a right to be safe from family violence and child abuse. It will:
  • ensure victims of family violence and child abuse are in a position to disclose this in court without fear it will disadvantage them in proceedings;
  • improve the understanding of what family violence and abuse is by clearly setting out what type of behaviour is unacceptable; and
  • ensure appropriate action is taken to prioritise the safety of children.
Despite the claims of some interest groups, the reforms do not repeal the shared care laws introduced in 2006.

The Family Violence Bill retains the substance of the shared parenting laws and continues to promote a childs right to a meaningful relationship with both parents - but the best interests of the child must always come first, particularly in situations of conflict.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that shared care generally works well where the parents have little conflict, can cooperate and live close together.

A child's right to a meaningful relationship with both parents - where this is safe - should always be supported.

These changes come with broad community support.

The Australian community, from families who have come into contact with the family law system, to hard-working professionals who work in the system, have spoken overwhelmingly in support of this Bill.

Over 400 submissions were received during the public consultation on the exposure draft of the Bill, conducted between November 2010 and January 2011.

An overwhelming 73 per cent of all submissions supported the Bill, with a further 10 per cent offering information about their very difficult personal experiences.

The level of interest and support from the community around these changes indicate two things  that the Government is responding to a clear need to improve and strengthen aspects of Family Law, and that the overwhelming majority of the community supports the Bill.

The passage of these reforms through Parliament will ensure improvements to family law that will prioritise the safety of children and remove the disincentive for people to report incidents of family violence.

Our work to address family violence will not end with the introduction of the Bill today, but its a very important step on the road to improving the system.

A collection of FOUR (4) newspaper articles reporting the Australian Government's intentions to roll-back the family law reforms of the Howard Government. The opposition says they will not support the roll-backs.

The Age (Melbourne)
24 March 2011

Law change liable to upset fathers
By Katharine Murphy

The Gillard government will provoke the ire of fathers' groups today with landmark changes to family law designed to protect children in cases of domestic violence.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland will press ahead with legislation winding back some of the shared parenting changes ushered in by the Howard government. The changes will make it easier for parents to produce evidence of violence in cases where parents are in dispute over contact arrangements. The legislation will include new legal definitions of abuse and family violence.

The government believes the Howard changes made it difficult for women to make allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes because they could end up with costs awarded against them, or be branded an unfriendly parent, increasing the chances of shared care being ordered.

Family law experts, and women's groups, have urged the government to make child safety a more compelling legal principle than the concept of equal parenting rights.

The bill went out for a consultation period and the government has changed the original proposal to ensure courts will still take note of the level of parental participation in a child's life and their preparedness to provide financial support.

The architect of the changes, former family court judge Richard Chisholm, said the government had chosen not to adopt all of his recommendations, but the amendments were positive. ''It is a sensible and moderate measure,'' Professor Chisholm said.

Mr McClelland, who has been lobbied extensively by shared-care proponents, said the government remained supportive of mothers and fathers sharing care of their children after marriages failed ''but only where this is safe for the child''.

The Coalition has signalled it will block the measure, forcing the government to court the crossbench for support.

The Sydney Morning Herald
24 March 2011

Family law changes anger men's groups
By Adele Horin

Groups representing fathers have vowed to fight new family law legislation that will give higher priority to children's safety than their involvement with both parents after separation.

The federal government will introduce amendments to the Family Law Act today after three inquiries found the act did not give sufficient protection to victims of family violence.

However, some men's groups see any changes as an ''underhand means of sabotaging'' the 2006 reforms giving greater emphasis to shared parental responsibility and shared time with children.

The amendments go a long way to addressing problems raised by women's groups, academics, the Family Law Council and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, as well as in public consultations following publication of a draft bill in November.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the family violence bill had strong community support. Of more than 400 submissions on the bill, 73 per cent supported the measures.

The government's final bill has been tweaked to respond to issues raised during the consultation but represents a significant departure from the current act.

In determining what is best for children, courts will be required to give priority to their safety when there is conflict with the act's other major objective that children should have a meaningful relationship with both parents.

As well, the bill introduces a new broad definition of family violence. In a departure from the draft bill, family violence is defined as violent, threatening or other behaviour that coerces or controls, and causes the victim to be fearful.

The bill provides an extensive list of behaviours that may constitute family violence including ''but not limited to'' an assault, stalking, repeated derogatory taunts, unreasonably denying the person financial autonomy, causing death or injury to an animal, and intentionally damaging or destroying property.

The bill also changes the definition of child abuse to include psychological damage caused by exposure to family violence.

It removes disincentives from people raising family violence in court. It removes the ''friendly parent'' provision which required the court to take into account a parent's willingness to facilitate the child's contact with the other parent.

Reformers argued women were afraid to raise violence in case they were regarded as ''unfriendly''. The courts will no longer be able to impose a cost penalty for false allegations of family violence, after evidence women did not raise violence for fear they would not be believed.

The Coalition is believed to be willing to consider minor amendments but is concerned about tampering with an act that it had championed.

The Australian
24 March 2011

Family law revamp to keep shared care
Patricia Karvelas From:The Australian March 24, 2011 12:00AM

THE Gillard government has backed away from plans to delete the shared parenting provision at the centre of the Howard government's 2006 family law reforms.

Under proposed new arrangements, the Family Court will still have to consider whether divorced parents have encouraged a close and continuing relationship between the child and their former partner when awarding custody.

A significant revamp of family law will still go ahead, with Attorney-General Robert McClelland set today to introduce legislation that redefines domestic violence and places greater weight on child safety, meeting a key criticism of the Howard reforms.

But some elements of the "friendly parent" provision that was set to be abolished will be kept, after lobbying that further consultation was needed on living arrangements, access and financial support.

In changes since the first draft of the bill was circulated last November, a threat to commit suicide has been removed as a specific definition of family violence. The definition now contains a general characterisation of harmful behaviour instead of an exhaustive listing, and provides examples of stalking, maiming pets and financial abuse.

The government said it had changed the definition because of concerns that references to suicide could heighten separation anxiety and mental health concerns for people experiencing family breakdown.

But the government insists that this kind of intentionally manipulative behaviour would still clearly fit within the description of "family violence". The proposed changes to the Family Law Act come after Labor MPs, particularly women, raised concerns that the Howard government laws had gone too far and were hurting vulnerable children.

The Howard reforms of 2006 placed greater emphasis on shared parenting when couples divorced.

Under Labor's amendments to the Family Law Act, the evidentiary burden on those seeking to show that a child faces a risk of violence has been eased after concerns that lawyers were advising clients against disclosing violence against them in case they were seen as an "unfriendly parent".

Mr McClelland said the Family Law Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 would create a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children. "It will help people within the system to understand and recognise family violence and child abuse, and encourage them to act," he said.

He said the Family Violence Bill retained the substance of the shared parenting laws introduced in 2006 and continued to promote a child's right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, but emphasised that the best interests of the child must come first. "The government continues to support shared care but only where this is safe for the child," he said.

Retired family court judge Richard Chisholm said the bill was not a radical departure from the 2006 reforms.

"While there might be reasonable differences of opinion about some of the details, I believe that those who understand the way family law operates and who want to do the best thing for children will overwhelmingly agree that this bill will bring about a real improvement in the law," he said.

The West Australian
24 March 2011

Divorcees rap family law changes


Divorced parents' groups say proposed family law changes will swamp the courts with vexatious claims of family violence made by embittered ex-partners in custody disputes.

Brian Fisher, a spokesman for the Family Law Reform Association, said under the proposed changes, the definition of family violence would be left open-ended and become too subjective, making it easier for judges to restrict or terminate parental contact.

As an example, he said a woman could make an allegation that her estranged husband "raised his voice and I was scared", leaving it virtually impossible for the accused to challenge that claim.

The changes will also water down sanctions against partners who made false statements about their exes, which Mr Fisher said would only encourage further damaging and untrue claims to be made during ugly court battles.

So-called friendly parent provisions which require the Family Court to consider whether parents have fulfilled their obligation to encourage a healthy relationship between their child and the other parent will be removed.

Mr Fisher predicted the Family Court would be bogged down examining these allegations of family violence and be diverted from concentrating on more serious cases of actual violence and abuse.

He said there was no good reason for changes in the wake of the 2006 family law reforms encouraging shared parenting.

Other groups objecting to the changes include the Lone Fathers Association, Parents without Partners, the Non-Custodial Parents Party, Fairness in Child Support and the Shared Parenting Council.

The draft changes were released late last year for public consultation. The Government says the changes are designed to provide better protection for families and children at risk of violence.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said last month more than 400 submissions had been received, with 73 per cent in favour of the changes. He said the level of interest showed there was a clear need to improve parts of family law.

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