Australia Family Law Changes

Thanks for my good friends Monte and Ros at Techark for the heads-up on this one. The Parliament in Australia is debating massive changes to its family law system. If approved, the proposals would require judges to consider equal time parenting, set up “one-stop shops” where married couples could complete all the steps needed for a divorce, and drastically increase the use of guardians ad litem on behalf of children.

The debate on the changes has been delayed out of courtesy to Family First Senator Steve Fielding, who is receiving emergency medical treatment for severe abdominal pain. When debate resumes, Parliament will contemplate the biggest family law changes in 30 years.

The package includes these elements:

  • It would require the family court judge hearing a custody case to consider equal time parenting. The proposal does not now make a presumption that equal time parenting is preferred, but fathers’ rights groups are lobbying for that change.
  • It would set up one-stop “shops” around Australia where couples could go to pick up forms, get assistance submitting documents, and obtain family support services.
  • It would require the apporintment of an independent lawyer to meet with children whose parents are fighting over custody and to form a view independent of either parent about what parenting plan is in the children’s best interest.
  • It would encourage the use of mediation to resolve family issues, including a presumption that lawyers shouldn’t participate in the sessions themselves.
  • It would tilt the balance of power on domestic violence issues, requiring that any fear of violence be “reasonable” and imposing new penalties for false allegations of violence.

You can read the opposition’s take on the legislation on Democratic Senator Andrew Bartlett’s blog.

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