Published: 06 May, 2024

AG's Media release: Landmark Family Law Act reforms come into effect

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

6 May 2024

Media Release

Today the Albanese Government’s significant reforms to the Family Law Act come into effect, making Australia’s family law system simpler, safer and easier for separating families and their children.

In October 2023 the Albanese Government’s landmark legislation, the Family Law Amendment Act 2023 and the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023, passed the Parliament.

The changes will make what is an often-confusing and overly complex system easier to navigate for families going through a challenging period of their lives.

These two pieces of legislation recognise the need for a simpler and safer family law system, and improved information sharing to address family safety risks.

Significantly, it is now law that the resolution of parenting disputes should always be based solely on what is in the best interests of the child.

Over the nine years that the former Liberal government was in office, family law experts, parliamentary committees and expert reviews identified ways in which the Family Law Act could better prioritise the safety of children, and focus on their individual needs.

With more than two dozen reviews and hundreds of recommendations left on the shelf, the former Liberal government failed to act.

Today, many important reforms come into effect that address the findings and recommendations of these reviews.

Australians need a family law system that is simple, accessible and that puts the safety of children at the heart of every decision.

Family Law Amendment Act 2023

The Family Law Amendment Act 2023 aims to assist courts and parents to resolve parenting disputes safely, efficiently and with a clear focus on the best interests of the children involved.

The reforms remove the ‘presumption of equal shared parental responsibility’, which has often been misunderstood as meaning parents have a right to equal shared time. This has allowed some parents to be coerced into agreeing to equal time arrangements that are unsafe. This change makes it clear that all decisions about parenting arrangements should be based on what arrangements best meet the needs of the individual child.

The reforms also:

  • provide a simple, child-focussed list of ‘best interest’ considerations to streamline the decision-making process for parenting orders
  • establish requirements for Independent Children’s Lawyers to meet directly with children and seek their views
  • include a definition of ‘member of the family’ that is inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship
  • introduce simpler compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders
  • create new powers for the courts to prevent harmful, unmeritorious litigation
  • enable government to regulate family report writers, and
  • ensure that children’ voices are heard more easily in matters under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

From 6 May 2024, the changes relating to parenting matters will apply to all new parenting applications and existing parenting matters before the courts, except where a final hearing has already commenced.

Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023

The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 establishes an enhanced framework for sharing information relating to family violence, child abuse and neglect risk between the family law courts and information sharing agencies. In particular, this reform:

  • introduces two new information sharing orders for the courts to quickly seek information from police, child protection and firearms agencies about family violence, child abuse and neglect that could place children at risk
  • ensures these orders are available at any point during proceedings so information is accurate and up-to-date throughout proceedings
  • outlines legal exclusions to information sharing and establishes information sharing safeguards for the family law courts and agencies to consider when sharing, using and storing information, and
  • introduces a restriction on the issue of subpoenas without leave of the court to reduce duplication of information requests and information before the court.

As a result of the changes, courts will now have access to better information in all family law matters.

The changes will ensure the courts have access to a holistic picture of family safety risk in order to prioritise the safety of children and families, particularly in circumstances where there is risk of child abuse, neglect or family violence.

From 6 May 2024, these changes will apply to all child-related proceedings, including when a final hearing has already commenced.

The Government has been working with stakeholders to ensure that the new provisions are implemented efficiently, with minimal disruption and to ensure that information about the reforms is available to those within the family law system.

The Government recognises the significant impact family violence and safety concerns can have on children and families and thanks those who have shared their experiences throughout the development of these laws.

The Government also acknowledges the important contributions of stakeholders whose perspectives have been invaluable to the development of these reforms and will be critical to their effective implementation.

There is further reform work underway to improve the family law system so that it is accessible, safer and delivers justice and fairness for all Australian families. A second tranche of reforms has already been released as an exposure draft and focuses on improving the law for parties with family property disputes, and in particular to expressly recognise family violence as part of a property settlement.

More information about how the reforms will operate is available at Children and family law on the Attorney-General's Department website.

More detailed information on the Information Sharing Act can be found at Family Law Information Sharing on the Attorney-General's Department website.