Family law changes from 6 May 2024

The Family Law Amendment Act 2023 and Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 were passed by the Australian Parliament on 19 October 2023.

The changes include new laws about how the Courts will make parenting orders in the best interests of a child.

Most of the changes to the Family Law Act will commence on 6 May 2024. For more information about timing see ‘When do the changes start?’ below.

What is changing?

Family Law Amendment Act 2023

The changes relate to parenting matters and will not affect financial only proceedings.

The Family Law Amendment Act 2023 sets out new laws including about:

  • what the Courts must consider when determining what is in the child’s best interests, and
  • how separated parents are to make decisions about long-term issues for their children.

The Attorney-General’s Department has developed factsheets for family law professionals and parents to explain the new laws:

The changes may affect people who:

  • have a current parenting matter before the Courts (that won’t be finalised before 6 May 2024), or
  • are trying to determine the right parenting arrangement for their child/ren.

The new laws will make changes to the law about parenting arrangements, including:

  • introducing a shorter list of factors for the Courts to consider when deciding whether parenting arrangements are in the best interests of the child/children
  • introducing new sections about decision making about major long-term issues
  • removing the presumption of equal shared responsibility, noting there has never been a requirement for children to spend equal time with each parent.

There are a number of other changes, which include:

  • expanding the definitions of ‘relative’ and ‘member of the family’ to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family;
  • a requirement for Independent Children’s Lawyers to meet directly with children if they are over 5 years old, unless the child does not wish to meet with the Independent Children’s Lawyer or there are other exceptional circumstances;
  • amended compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders, which impact applications such as Contravention Applications;
  • new powers for the Courts to prevent harmful litigation, including the power to make harmful proceedings orders.

Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023

The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 amends the Family Law Act to give effect to key parts of the National Strategic Framework for Information Sharing between the Family Law and Family Violence and Child Protection Systems. It enhances the sharing of child abuse, neglect, and family violence risk information between the Courts, child welfare agencies and police.

The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023:

  • repeals section 69ZW of the Family Law Act and introduces new Subdivision DA in Part VII of the Family Law Act, which deals with sharing information relating to family violence, child abuse and neglect in child-related proceedings
  • introduces a new order for particulars of documents or information held by information sharing agencies (state and territory child protection, police and firearms agencies and the Australian Federal Police for the Australian Capital Territory)
  • introduces a broadened order for the Courts to require information sharing agencies to produce documents or information
  • introduces a new category of protected information that is not required to be shared by information sharing agencies
  • includes provisions about the admission of relevant shared information in proceedings, and instances where otherwise protected material can be shared and disclosed
  • protects against the disclosure of information that identifies a notifier of suspected family violence or child abuse (except in limited circumstances)
  • introduces a requirement for parties to seek the Court’s permission to issue a subpoena to an information sharing agency that has been ordered to produce documents or information
  • empowers the prescription of additional information sharing safeguards in the Family Law Regulations 1984 (Cth)

The full text of the Act is available on the Federal Register of Legislation.

When do the changes start?

Most of the changes will come into effect on Monday 6 May 2024. In most cases, from this date, these changes will apply to all new and existing parenting proceedings, except where the final hearing has already begun. Some of the changes will apply even where a final hearing has already begun.

Commencement timing

Family Law Amendment Act 2023

This table indicates the commencement date for a number of relevant Schedules of the Family Law Amendment Act 2023. The table is provided as a guide only.

Parts of the Family Law Amendment Act 2023 Application provisions Commencement date

Schedule 1

Parts 1 & 2 – Parenting Framework (Best interests of children and parental responsibility)

The amendments in Part 1 and Part 2 of Schedule 1 apply in relation to all new and existing proceedings from 6 May 2024, except proceedings in respect of which a final hearing has commenced by that date.

New section 61CA (Consultation between parents on major long-term issues) will apply from 6 May 2024 irrespective of whether a final hearing has commenced.

Refer to the application provisions in items 12 and 25 of Schedule 1.

6 May 2024

Schedule 1

Part 3 – Reconsideration of Final Parenting Orders

The amendment provisions will apply in relation to all final parenting orders from 6 May 2024 (whether the orders came into force before or after that date).

Refer to the application provision in items 27 of Schedule 1.

6 May 2024

Schedule 2

Part 1 – Enforcement of child-related orders

The amendments will apply from 6 May 2024. 6 May 2024

Schedule 2

Part 2 – Delegations

The amendments apply from 7 November 2023. 7 November 2023

Schedule 3

Definition of a member of the family

The amendments in Schedule 3 apply in relation to all new and existing proceedings from 6 May 2024, except proceedings in respect of which a final hearing has commenced by that date.

Refer to the application provision in item 7 of Schedule 3.

6 May 2024

Schedule 4

Independent Children’s Lawyers and Hague Convention Proceedings

The amendments in Schedule 4 apply in relation to all new and existing proceedings from 6 May 2024, except proceedings in respect of which a final hearing has commenced by that date.

Refer to the application provisions in items 3 and 6 of Schedule 4.

6 May 2024

Schedule 5

Part 1 – Harmful proceedings orders and co-location of sections 45A and 102Q

The amendments in Schedule 5 (Part 1) will apply to all proceedings instituted on or after 6 May 2024, and all proceedings underway on that date (i.e. the difference is that there is no exception for matters that have commenced final hearing).

Refer to the application provision in item 14 of Schedule 5.

6 May 2024

Schedule 5

Part 2 – Overarching purpose of the family law practice and procedure provisions

The amendments in Schedule 5 (Part 2) to the Family Law Act apply in relation to all new and existing proceedings from 6 May 2024, except proceedings in respect of which a final hearing has commenced by that date.

Refer to the application provision in item 18 of Schedule 5.

The amendments in Schedule 5 (Part 2) to the FCFCOA Act will apply to all proceedings instituted on or after 6 May 2024, and all proceedings underway on that date ( there is no exception for matters that have commenced final hearing).

Refer to the application provision in item 35 of Schedule 5.

6 May 2024

Schedule 6

Communication of details of family law proceedings

The amendments in Schedule 6 will commence on 6 May 2024 and apply to acts or omissions occurring on or after that day.

Refer to the application provision in item 9 of Schedule 6.

6 May 2024

Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023

The provisions in the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 will commence on 6 May 2024. These provisions will apply to all new and existing parenting proceedings.

Practical considerations

Practitioners or parties who are preparing to file an application in the Court that will be affected by these changes (such as an application for parenting orders or a contravention application) should carefully consider the timing of their application and the laws that will apply to finalise that application.

Practitioners or parties who have a current proceeding in either Court should carefully consider the timing of the next hearing in the matter. If the next hearing is after 6 May 2024, and based on an assessment of the relevant application provisions, the new law will apply to the proceeding, practitioners and parties should ensure the submissions filed or made, and the orders sought, are in accordance with the new law.

For example, if you filed an application on 1 March 2024, and it is listed for an interim hearing on 8 May 2024, the new laws will apply to the interim hearing.

It is important that you understand the meaning and effect of the orders you seek. You should seek legal advice about your application and how the new laws apply.

Even if you have decided to make your application without the help of a lawyer, you should obtain independent legal advice about the effect and consequences of the orders you propose. You can get legal advice from a legal aid office, community legal centre, or private law firm.

See the FCFCOA website, Family law: Find a lawyer.

Court staff can help you with questions about forms and Court processes, but cannot give you legal advice.

If, after 6 May 2024, the Court is considering an Application for consent orders that includes parenting orders, the new laws will apply even if the application was filed before 6 May 2024. Orders cannot be made if they do not meet the criteria in the new provisions.

Parties filing a parenting related application should consider the new laws commencing on 6 May 2024 in deciding when to file their Application for consent orders with the Court. It generally takes approximately two weeks for the court to make Consent Orders after an Application for consent orders is filed.

Frequently asked questions

What do the changes mean for my current parenting matter?

You should obtain legal advice about the application of the new law to your current parenting matter or your individual circumstances.

In most cases, the changes will apply to all existing parenting proceedings, except where the final hearing has already begun. Some of the changes will apply even where a final hearing has already begun.

If you have a current proceeding, you should carefully consider the timing of the next hearing in your matter. If the next hearing is after 6 May 2024, and based on an assessment of the relevant application provisions, the new law will apply to the proceeding, you should ensure the submissions filed or made, and the orders sought, are in accordance with the new law.

Should I wait until after 6 May 2024 to file my application with the Court?

You do not have to wait until after 6 May 2024 to file an application with the Court. You should obtain legal advice about the law that will apply at the time your file an application.

I have a current matter, do I need to file new forms with the Court?

No, not necessarily. The Court will reissue certain court forms from 6 May 2024, mostly where they reference sections of the law that have changed. From 6 May 2024, if you need to file a court form, you should use the new form, which will be the versions published on the website.

Otherwise, you should comply with any orders or directions of the Court as to the re-filing of any court form.

Will there be a grace period for court forms?

Information about changes to the court forms and any form grace periods will be available soon.

Will my current parenting orders be automatically changed by the new laws?

No, existing court orders remain in full force and effect. People with existing parenting orders should continue to follow the terms of those orders.

If you have questions about what the changes mean, such as:

  • What does ‘removing the ‘presumption' of equal shared parental responsibility’ mean?
  • What does ‘best interest of the child’ mean?
  • Can I apply to have my existing orders changed under the new laws?

You can find preliminary information in the Attorney-General’s Department factsheets:

You should seek legal advice about your application and how the new laws apply to your individual circumstances.

Attorney General’s Departmentwww.ag.gov.au

You can find information about family law and these amendments on the Attorney-General’s Department website:

Children and family law:

https://www.ag.gov.au/families-and-marriage/families/children-and-family-law

Federal Register of Legislationwww.legislation.gov.au

The new legislation is available on the Federal Register of Legislation:

Australian Parliament Housewww.aph.gov.au

The accompanying explanatory materials for these amendments are available from the Australian Parliament House website: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r7011