New family law increases protection for children from violence
When family relationships break down it’s always one of the toughest areas of law to deal with and nigh impossible to get 100 per cent right. Whatever the decision, someone and sometimes everyone, will be unhappy.
But the core aim of the law is to make decisions on what’s best for the children. Their safety and wellbeing is paramount and this move should be applauded.
On June 7 new laws come into operation under the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measurers) Act 2011 which places even greater emphasis on protecting children from harm and from being exposed to abuse, neglect, or violence.
The new law expands the definition of family violence. It is not just physical violence such as assault, sexual assault, stalking or intentionally destroying property.
It includes any act or behavior that causes a family member to be fearful such as harassment (repeated derogatory taunting), coercion, stalking, controlling or emotional manipulation (such as preventing them seeing family or friends), harming a pet and financial abuse (withholding financial support or controlling spending).
A child will be deemed exposed to family violence if they hear or see others engaged in violence. This includes overhearing threats of physical harm by one family member to another, witnessing violence in the family or seeing someone cleaning up after property has been damaged in a violent incident.
The court has to decide what is best for the child if there is family violence. Currently there is a requirement for the parties to inform the court of any allegation of family violence.
The changes follow concerns that shared parenting legislation could place children in situations where they might be exposed to family violence. While the aim is still to allow both parents to share access to their children, the new laws make it clear this will only happen if the child is safe from harm.
One significant change is that the new law removes the requirement that for a person to allege family violence, they need to have a ‘reasonable’ fear for their safety. There is some concern that this change could bog down courts with untrue exaggerated or “unreasonable” claims by a parent of violence as a tactic to achieve a better result in court.
The Family Court can still award costs against anyone who makes a false statement and it remains a criminal offence to knowingly make false statements during court proceedings.
For more information please see our 2023 article Focus on best interests of the child in planned changes to family law.