On the 24 of March, 2011 the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland introduced into Parliament changes to reform the Family Law Act to strengthen protections against family violence and child abuse.
The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011, makes some positive changes including broader definitions of family violence and child abuse, greater priority for safety and the removal of disincentives to reporting family violence. This is a great first step, but a lot more is needed to ensure the family law system is not jeopardising the safety of children and their carers affected by violence.
For more information regarding the “Put Safety First in Family Law Campaign” and what other actions you can take to support it, visit www.safetyinfamilylaw.com.
We, the people, call on the Australian Parliament to:
1. Fix the Family Law System to better protect children and their carers from family violence
Parliament should pass the Bill and further strengthen the measures provided within the Bill.
2. Put safety first in family law
The Bill only prioritises safety in cases where “there is an inconsistency” between achieving a safe outcome for a child and a child having an ongoing meaningful relationship with another person. This is not enough; safe outcomes in families should not be made subject to other considerations such as “proving an inconsistency”. A clear statement in legislation making children’s safety and the safety of other family members a priority is required and needs to be “backed up” up by a legislative framework the supports safe outcomes.
3. Remove presumptions in family law
The presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and the emphasis in the Family Law Act on shared parenting, over and above other parenting outcomes, places children and other family members who have experienced domestic and family violence, in danger.
Every child and every family is unique and has different needs, thus the “one size fits all” approach is inappropriate and should be removed from the legislation.
4. Ensure primary carers are safe
Children are safest when their primary carers are safe. Living with primary carers who are emotionally and physically abused has a negative impact on a child’s wellbeing and development. The safety of children is not just about preventing violence directed against them; it is about safety and wellbeing of their family and enabling all members of the family to heal from past violence. It defies logic that in legal practice “a parent who is violent to their partner can be considered a bad partner, but a good parent”. This must stop; legislation should protect primary carers and recognise their significant role in children’s lives (especially in very young children) because it is important for the emotional development of children in the short and long term.
The Put Safety First in Family Law petition to Australian Parliament was written by Heidi Guldbaek and is in the category Law Reform at GoPetition.