Family law reforms 'send a clear message'

Date: Jun 21, 2012

Recent changes to legislation concerning family violence send a clear signal that such behaviour will not be tolerated in Australian society, attorney-general Nicola Roxon has noted.

Writing an opinion piece for The Age and Sun Herald, she explained that tackling the problem presents a real challenge for society.

Not only do the reforms, which came into effect on June 7,  discourage the perpetrators, but they will also send out a message to family lawyers, the courts, police and counsellors.

Reforms to the system should also help bring a greater number of family violence cases to the attention of the authorities, as Ms Roxon believes that too many currently remain hidden.

"Many people have experienced the emotional heartache of a relationship breakdown. It's no wonder contact with the family law system is one of the most stressful experiences of their lives," she commented.

Parents need to be encouraged to look past their conflict with their partner and take note of the negative effect this can have on their children.

The government has taken steps to make sure that children are put at the centre of any decisions made in relation to time spent with each parent, parental responsibility or child custody.

Furthermore, their safety is now higher up the agenda and disincentives have been removed for parents to report instances of family violence.

Definitions have been amended so that physical assault is no longer presumed to be a factor in family violence, therefore recognising the trauma associated with emotional abuse.

Harassment, emotional manipulation, financial abuse and threatening behaviour have now all been recognised as instances of harm that could have an impact on youngsters.

"This is why the government has introduced a new definition of family violence, which includes examples of these harmful behaviours, to reflect a more contemporary understanding of the types of conduct that are unacceptable," noted the attorney-general.

Some of the existing legislation will remain in place - for example, it will continue to be an offence to make false allegations of violence during court proceedings.

It was recently announced that people on provisional partner visas who were victims of family violence would be given greater protection in Australia.

The reforms mean that a different approach to the assessment of violence under migration law will come into force, with a wider range of evidence needed to support such claims.

The government acknowledged that existing regulations often led to undue stress for those who have been subjected to family violence.