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Family Law - Time for change - Reform proposals are released for public consultation

After considerable planning and discussion I am releasing the proposed plan for further reforms that are urgently required in the family law area.

These measures have been carefully thought out with a substantial working and planning document to support the ideas and proposals.

My colleagues, Michael Green and I have been working on a plan and are now pleased to release the core details for your consideration and comment.
 
Please let us know if we have your support to take this further and get legislative change underway and make a real difference for separating families.
 
One thing is for sure and that the system requires a significant change to move from a cumbersome and challenged process to a more rapid and determinant outcome early on within weeks of parents separating. We say this will give certainty that both parents will be able to participate in a child’s life and that children will not be put in positions of having angered parents or parents who promulgate the issue of contact for months and years.
 
In respect to this new family law system, I will summarise the key proposal as agreed by the Shared Parenting Council of Australia and a number of legal practitioners and subject matter experts.
 
A more extensive background paper has been prepared and is available, however I wanted to publish to you today the key summary points.

Our key thrust is to effect three urgent reforms that are required:

  • To effect a more timely arrangement for contact with children where allegations are made
  • To effect a more timely arrangement for contact with children where there are no allegations and where parents will not agree on proper contact arrangement.
  • To resolve the constant problem of dealing with contravention matters that impacts on contact and Child Support payments.

  A key part of the solution is to use both the local courts and the AAT to achieve a more agile and timely resolution. Our intention is to move to utilise State based services and create an Administrative system at the first step in the process.

The proposed solution
 
Implement the following presumptions in law
 
  • A child can expect to have significant, substantial or equal time with their parents after parents separate
  • It is expected that parents will work to set up a contact regime within a week of separating.
  • Mediation through the FRC is the preferred option for separating parents, however where parents cannot get agree on contact arrangements with children in a timely manner the following will operate. 
Where allegations of abuse, alcohol or drug abuse
 
  • Where there are allegations of abuse, allegations of excess alcohol use, and or drug taking by one parent about the other, these are to be tested in the local courts along the same time lines as the existing ADVO system where an interim order is made pending further examination.
  • Where allegations are found to have been fabricated or are false, then the provisions that operate for APVO matters in NSW viz. s49A (False or misleading applications for apprehended personal violence order) under the NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence ) Act 2007 should be implemented.
    • (This does not mean that allegations, found to have been made in good faith to protect a child will be determined as fabricated and false). It will be for the judicial officer to determine the validity of allegations made.
  • Magistrates and Registrars will adjudicate these matters early within weeks not months and years. If necessary experienced legal practitioners can be appointed to special positions in the Court system to shore up any work load. 
  • Interim contact orders to be made and final orders where practicable and appropriate as determined by the judicial officer.
  • Matters unsuitable for a decision, viz complex parenting matters, matters involving abuse and harm to children as set out by Police, or Government child protection agency, and as well, property matters will be referred to the Federal Circuit Court for a mention within three weeks and if unsuitable for determination at that court will be sent to the Family Court. 
Where no allegations of abuse, alcohol or drug abuse
 
  • Where there are no allegations of abuse, allegations of excess alcohol use, and or drug taking by one parent about the other, AND where parents cannot agree on contact and basic parenting arrangements for children, then these matters are to be referred to the AAT (an Administrative System not a judicial system) for an early decision.
 
Local Police to enforce orders
 
  • Where there is a clear breach of a parenting order the local Police are to, in the first instance attend the parties or contact the parties to enforce the order.
  • Where enforcement cannot be dealt with the matter is to be referred to the AAT for a determination.
  • Where the AAT cannot make a determination due to matters unsuitable for a decision, viz complex parenting matters, matters involving abuse and harm to children as set out by Police, or Government child protection agency, and as well, property matters will be referred to the Federal Circuit Court for a mention within three weeks and if unsuitable for determination at that court will be sent to the Family Court.
 
Contraventions of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court family orders
 
  • Where Police cannot resolve a clear breach of an order, then contraventions are to be sent to and determined at the AAT.
  • The AAT will be expanded, and appropriately trained adjudicators will be appointed, to cover the hearing of contravention matters where orders have not been adhered to. (It is a quick and inexpensive system compared to the existing system.)
 
We are available to discuss the details further and you can write or e-mail me or post directly on our forums.
 

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