Amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

The most significant amendment made to the FLA is the broadening of the definition of “family violence” and “abuse.”  The new definition of family violence emphasises the reality that family violence is not limited to physical violence.  The definition clearly dispels the myth that family violence is only physical and includes any behaviour that coerces controls or causes an individual to be fearful.  The section also provides examples of behaviour that would be defined as “family violence.”  Furthermore, the widened definition of “abuse” now includes “serious psychological harm” including (but not limited to) being subjected to or exposed to family violence (s4BA) and “serious neglect.”

Prior to the amendments, the Family Court was required to determine the child’s best interests by considering the benefit the child would have from a meaningful relationship with both parents.  Additionally, the Court needed to consider the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.  While these considerations still stand, the amendments required the Court to give greater weight to the need to protect the child from harm.  These amendments, in light of the broadened definition of “family violence” and “abuse,” go directly towards enhancing the protection of children.

Protecting children from harm is reinforced in the amendment that requires the Court to take prompt action in relation to allegations of child abuse or family violence.  Where a party files a notice that there has been child abuse or family violence, the Court must consider what orders should be made to allow appropriate evidence regarding the allegations to be obtained, and orders to protect the child (or any other parties) in the proceedings.

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