The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018
On 1 September 2018 legislation came into effect that the government has promised will better protect vulnerable Australians experiencing family violence. The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018 (Cth) (“the Bill”) amends the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), and increases the capacity of the justice system to provide effective outcomes for people who are experiencing family violence, as well as improving the family law system’s response to family violence. The Bill effects State and Territory courts as well as the Family Law courts, and extends beyond family violence orders.
State and Territory Courts
One of the most significant effects of the Bill is to provide State and Territory courts with some of the same powers in parenting matters as held by Family Law courts. Importantly, State and Territory courts now have the power to revive, vary or suspend an injunction for personal protection when hearing a proceeding for a breach of that injunction. The 21-day time limit on the revival, variation or suspension of family law orders by State and Territory courts in family violence order proceedings has also been removed.
The Bill also provides for regulations to prescribe an increase to the total property value under which courts can hear contested family law property matters, without the parties’ consent. Currently the monetary limit for property settlement matters is $20,000, but the Bill permits the court to prescribe a higher amount. This has the potential to increase the number of contested family law property matters that could be heard by State and Territory courts.
Family Law Courts
The Bill sets out explicit powers for the Family Law courts to dismiss applications that are considered without merit, such as those that have been brought to waste time or manipulate the Court to the advantage of one party over the other.
Judges can now also exercise discretion and dispense with the requirement to explain an order or injunction to a child, where it is in the best interests of the child.
Other Important Changes
The Bill has amended the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) so that there is no longer a defence of self-induced intoxication available for a person who commits an act of family violence. Additionally, it is now a criminal offence to breach a family law injunction in relation to personal protection (previously it was only a criminal offence if the injunction was granted by a State court). If the breach is committed by the protected person, this will not result in a criminal offence.
Welfare groups have welcomed the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018 (Cth) and the changes that are aimed at increasing the capacity of the justice system to provide effective outcomes, as well as improving responsiveness, to family violence. However without additional funding to State and Territory courts, it remains to be seen how effective the practical application of these changes will be.