A NEW set of changes to family law, which take effect from 1 July this year, are the most significant to take place in 30 years, according to the Attorney-General’s Department.
The department began a $25.6 million community education campaign this week to try and get the understanding of Australian families about the changes, which will cost the government almost $400 million. The campaign will run until June 2010, and aims to change the “culture of family separation”.
Statistics quoted on the Department’s site showed that more than one million children in Australia have one parent living elsewhere, and that one in four children from separated families see their non-resident parent only once a year or not at all.
“The Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 marks a major cultural shift in the family law system that will help families to deal co-operatively and practically with relationship difficulties and separations,” said a joint release from the Attorney-General’s Department and Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
The reforms promote the right of children to know both their parents, to spend equal amounts of day-to-day routine time with both parents, and to be protected from harm. They also acknowledge that the responsibility of parenting should be shared equally, the role of grandparents is important and that parents and children benefit more after separation when parenting arrangements are resolved outside the court system.
From 2007, a requirement for parents to attend family dispute resolution sessions will also be phased in, and courts will be given a wider range of powers to deal with people who breach parenting orders, and be able to take a parent’s failure to fulfil their major parenting responsibilities into account.
The existing definition of ‘family violence’ will also be amended, requiring the court to assess whether a fear of violence is reasonable from the perspective of the person who claims to be in fear.
The public information campaign will be run from 15 new Family Relationship Centres (FRCs), which will offer families a range of services from July onwards. A new telephone service with an advice line, and an information website have been set up. Eventually, 65 FRCs are to be established.
A large expansion of other services to support families will also be initiated across Australia in coming months. Another 33 new early intervention services will help improve parenting and relationship skills and provide a range of services to meet the needs of all family members regardless of age and gender. The early intervention services will work collaboratively with the new Family Relationship Centres.