The amendments to the Family Law Act pertaining to family violence and abuse imposes new obligations on the court and parties to a parenting case.
Violence and abuse in the family has evolved to consider certain aspects that were not encompassed by the law before. The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) was amended effective June 7, 2012 by the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and other Measures Act) 2011 (Cth). The amendments contain additional protection for victims of family violence and abuse.
Perhaps the most significant amendment is the new definitions of family violence. Under the amendments, certain behaviour like assault, stalking, making derogatory remarks, destroying property or injuring the victim’s pet are considered as family violence. Unlawful deprivation of liberty, preventing the victim from seeing family and friends, and withholding financial support are included in the wider coverage of family violence.
Another important amendment is including in the coverage a child’s exposure to family violence. A child is considered exposed to family violence if he sees the infliction of the violence on a family member, overhears threats, cleans up after a site of family violence, comforts or helps a family member who was assaulted and being present when police or ambulance officers respond to an assault incident.
The amendments require that when considering a child’s best interests both the primary and additional considerations must be taken into account. Courts are directed to take into account also whether there are existing family violence orders for a child or the child’s family member and if the parents are encouraging the child to foster a close relationship with the other parent.
Parents who apply to the court for parenting orders may see their applications affected greatly by the amendments. Under the new legislation the court must ensure that the child is not exposed to an unacceptable risk of family violence. The child’s safety will be given the greater weight. The benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both of his parents will be set aside if this will expose the child to family violence or abuse.
If the court has reasonable grounds to believe that there has been family violence or abuse or a risk of it parties do not have to undergo family dispute resolution anymore.
Interested persons who believe that the child is a victim or at risk for family violence or abuse must file a Form 4 which is a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence. Upon receipt of the Form 4, the court will act expeditiously on the case and might even issue interim orders for the protection of the child.
A party to a parenting case has the obligation to immediately inform the court if there are any pertinent family violence orders related to the child or the parties.