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3 May 2011 – Letter to editor (unpublished) – Family law changes are necessary to protect the safety of women children

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) supports the family law bill currently before parliament, although it does not go far enough in prioritising the safety of children and other vulnerable family members.

The article in today’s paper, Family Law Change ‘puts kids at risk’ (3 May 2011), is alarmist in its report of Chief Justice Bryant’s views on the proposed family violence reforms.

In her submission to the Senate Inquiry Diana Bryant expresses general support for the changes and the better protection for children and families at risk of violence or abuse. As with many of the other submissions made to the Inquiry, the Chief Justice provides comment on how the Bill can be improved and particularly comments on the practicality of transitional arrangements.

Many commentators, as well as Chief Justice Bryant, raise the very pertinent question of whether the family law system is adequately resourced to provide better protection in cases of family violence. Family violence is core work of the family law courts and the other organisations working in family law. As well as changes to the law, additional resources are required to manage increased workloads, enhance awareness of family violence and establish robust risk assessment.

Transitional arrangements are regularly mangaged in changes to the law and protection from family violence must be at the forefront of family law.

WLSA supports changes to family law as they have a sound evidential basis. Patrick Parkinson’s arguments, presented in the same article, that family violence is seen by many as a “weapon in the war between parents” continue to peddle the myth that women lie about domestic violence. This is a dangerous assertion and not supported by academic research. In fact the research shows that women are more likely to minimise their experience of violence than exaggerate it.

However, the greatest concern for WLSA is getting family law legislation right. This is so that children and other vulnerable family members are protected from on-going violence and abuse. Whilst the Family Law Act continues to emphasise shared parenting over and above other parenting outcomes, women and children who live with domestic violence will continue to be placed in danger.

Parenting arrangements should be in the best interests of children, worked out on a case by case basis. The safety and well-being of families is too important to not take the time to judge each case on its own merits, especially when issues of domestic violence and abuse are involved.

Dianne Hamey, Convenor, Women’s Legal Services Australia

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24 March 2011 – Family law changes must go further

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) welcomes the steps made in the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 but says the changes don’t go far enough.

“More changes to family law are needed to protect the safety of women and children from violence,” said Ms Dianne Hamey, Co-Convenor of WLSA. “Children’s emotional and physical safety and the safety of other vulnerable family members should always be the first priority in family law.”

The Bill, which is to be introduced into federal parliament today, proposes reforms that would prioritise safety when there is an inconsistency with a child having an ongoing meaningful relationship with another person. “Safe outcomes in families should be a clear and absolute priority and not subject to other considerations such as ‘proving an inconsistency’,” said Ms Hamey.

The amendments fail to remove the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility and the emphasis in the current Act on shared parenting. “The failure to touch these provisions means women and children who have experienced family violence will continue to be placed in danger,” said Ms Hamey. “Parenting arrangements should be in the best interests of children, worked out on a case-by-case basis. Each family is unique and there shouldn’t be presumptions about what is in any particular child’s best interests.”

“Families are too important to not take the time to judge each case on its own merits, especially when issues of family violence are involved.”

“There are some positive changes included in the Bill, including a greater emphasis on safety, clearer definitions of child abuse and family violence, and removing legislative disincentives to women disclosing violence. However, these changes are really just tinkering at the edges of the Family Law Act,” said Ms Hamey. “Fundamental reform of the Family Law Act is necessary so that children and other vulnerable family members can be protected from violence and abuse, after separation.”

Contacts for further information: Dianne Hamey, Co-Convenor, WLSA (02) 8745 6900, Angela Lynch, Committee member, WLSA, (07) 3392 0644, By email – wlsa AT clc.net.au, http://www.safetyinfamilylaw.com

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