February 8, 2024

Things to know about the family law changes

The family law team at Norman Waterhouse step through the changes to the Family Law Act and how it will impact parenting outcomes from May.

Important legislative changes affecting separated parents and their children will commence on 6 May 2024.

The reforms were reported in one section of the media as:

‘an attempt to wind back the clock in family law using domestic violence as leverage to negate the concept of shared parenting’. 

While it is too early to predict the impact of the reforms, it is clear the legislative changes are intended to recognise the very real impacts of family violence, including coercive control, by providing a greater emphasis upon the safety of both the child and the parent providing care in determining appropriate care arrangements for children.

Here is a brief summary of some of the main changes:

1. Removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility.

This presumption was a keystone of the 2006 reforms brought in under the Howard Government. The presumption was commonly misunderstood to mean that separated parents were entitled to equal time with their children. That was never the case, but the Court did have an obligation to consider whether equal time or substantial and significant time was in the best interests of children.

There will no longer be a presumption that it is in the best interests of children for their parents to retain equal shared parental responsibility for long-term decisions relating to their health, education, religious and cultural upbringing, name or changes to living arrangements.

The removal of the presumption may result in bespoke outcomes where, in certain cases, one parent has sole parental responsibility for decisions, such as decisions about a child’s health or education.

2. Redefining and meeting the best interests of children.

The best interests of children remain paramount, however there is a greater focus on the safety of children in determining what arrangements will meet their best interests.

The Court no longer has an obligation to consider whether it would be in the best interests of a child to spend equal time or substantial and significant time with each parent.

Instead, there will be seven simplified best interest considerations, including safety, a child’s needs and views, parental capacity, and the benefit to a child of having a relationship with parents and other people significant to a child, where it is safe to do so.

The family law team at Norman Waterhouse can assist you to navigate the impact of these important parenting reforms.

For further information and advice regarding the impact of the new legislation upon your parenting situation, please visit www.normans.com.au to contact one of our family lawyers. Or contact one of the Principals of our family law team, Elissa Riach at eriach@normans.com.au or Jill Miller at jmiller@normans.com.au

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