Family violence changes to commence in June

The main changes in the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 will commence on 7 June 2012.

Women’s Legal Services Victoria has prepared a Guide to the Act that includes a table which sets out the key changes, including the relevant new or amended section in the Family Law Act and a short explanation of the substance of the amendments.

Download the guide here.

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Parliament has passed the Family Law Bill!!

According to the  House of Representatives live minutes, the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill (with government amendments) passed through the House of Representatives at 11.59am – ie, it has now been passed by Parliament!

Different parts of the Act will commence at different times. The provisions relating to family violence will commence from a date to be fixed by proclamation (or six months after assent at the latest). Most of these provisions will only apply to cases that are instituted on or after commencement.

You can find more info on the Parliament House page for the Bill.

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The Senate has passed the Bill

The Senate passed the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill last night with the government amendments. The Bill now goes back to the House to consider the amendments made in the Senate.

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Proposed government amendments to Bill now available

The Government has issued its proposed amendments and a supplementary Explanatory Memorandum in response to the Senate Committee Report on the Bill.

In short, it seems the proposed amendments would:

  • implement recommendation 1 by clarifying that greater weight should be given to the protection of children from harm  in determining the best interests of the child
  • implement recommendation 3 by explaining the way in which the court may use evidence of family violence orders and relevant inferences from those orders in determining the best interests of the child
  • clarifying and amending the commencement provisions so that the amendments will only apply to cases that commence after the commencement of the new laws
The Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the Government proposed amendments would not alter the substance of the shared parenting laws.

The Greens have also issued some proposed amendments, which would:

  • include exposing children to family violence as a form of family violence (in the definition)
  • remove the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility when making parenting orders

The Government also tabled a replacement Explanatory Memorandum on Thursday, 13 October, which corrects some errors in the original Explanatory Memorandum and clarifies some other aspects of the Bill. You can find it (and the original) here.

As you might have gathered, debate on the Bill is yet to be resumed in the Senate (despite earlier predictions of a 12 September debate). The Bill continues to be listed in the Senate’s Notice Paper under Government Business and is listed in the Notice Paper for when the Senate next sits on 31 October.

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Senate Committee supports the Bill!

The Senate Committee report was tabled in Parliament last night, and the Committee has come out in support of the Bill!

The Committee has also recommended some minor changes, including clarifying that the safety of children must be the priority in deciding family law cases. The Greens Senators make some additional comments, including the need to remove equal shared parenting provisions, include exposure to family violence within the definition of family violence, and create a comprehensive risk assessment framework.

The next step in the process is for the Bill to be debated in the Senate – we hear this is likely to happen in the week beginning 12 September. The Senate Committee’s recommendations are not included automatically in the Bill. Rather, the Committee makes the recommendations to the Senate and the Senate can choose whether or not to make the recommended changes, make other changes, pass the Bill as is, etc.

Any changes that are made in the Senate will need to to back to the House of Representatives to be passed by both Houses. So, at a minimum, the Bill will need the support of Labor and the Greens in the Senate  (with or without changes), and Labor, the Greens, and independents Wilkie, Oakeshott and Windsor, in the House of Representatives (if any changes are made).

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Senate Committee transcripts are now available

The Senate Committee hearing took place on Friday, 8 July in Canberra. Women’s Legal Services Australia appeared as a witness along with a number of other government and non-government organisations.

You can find the transcript from the hearings online at the Committee’s website.

The Committee is due to report back to the Senate on 16 August 2011. If you haven’t already put in a submission we have heard they may accept a late submission up to the reporting deadline (although obviously the sooner the better!).

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Make a submission to the Senate Inquiry!!

Although the deadline for submissions has closed, we have heard that the Committee is still accepting submissions for its inquiry into the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011, although you need to get these in ASAP.

More support is still need for the Bill and further amendments, so please make a submission to the inquiry if you haven’t already done so. If you made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department in January, you need to make it again to the Senate Committee because this is a separate inquiry.

The Women’s Legal Services Australia’s position paper and submission writing kit might be of use to you in drafting your submission.

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