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Since the Howard Government introduced the concept of ‘Shared parenting’ there has been some opposition. One of the criticisms of the 2006 family law amendments was that women became afraid to raise allegations of violence by the father of their children, for fear the Court would not believe them and they would be ordered to pay Court costs, and possibly granted less time with their kids in the care split.

A recent review of the Family Law Act found that in many cases, making sure that kids have substantial and significant time with both parents has became the Court’s key priority. But this has meant that protecting children from harm has occasionally been overlooked, so children have sometimes been put in situations where they have to spend time with a violent parent.

The Family Violence Bill has been drafted to address this issue. The Bill aims to prevent kids from harm, giving this issue more weight than shared care. A substantial relationship with both parents is still seen to be in the best interests of children, but only if kids are safe from harm.

The Bill expands the definition of ‘family violence’ to include not only physical violence and threatening behaviour, but also harassment (such as repeated derogatory taunts), emotional manipulation (such as preventing someone from seeing family or friends), and financial abuse (such as withholding financial support).

It also changes the definition of ‘abuse’ to include when a child is exposed to abuse. For example, they may see or hear one family member assault another, or have to assist the victim. The proposed definition also includes serious neglect, such as a child not being provided with adequate food, shelter, or medical attention.

The review of current laws found that lawyers sometimes discouraged clients from making allegations of family violence unless the evidence was strong. If the Court thought the allegation was false, they could be viewed as an “unfriendly parent” (one who isn’t willing to facilitate their child’s healthy relationship with the other parent), and end up being forced to pay all of the Court costs.

But the proposed laws would remove the notion of the “friendly parent” and take away the mandatory costs order for false allegations. Lawyers would have to report allegations of family violence to the Court, and parties involved in proceedings would be required to disclose known information about a child’s welfare, such as any investigations conducted by child welfare agencies. So the Court would effectively have better access to evidence of violence.

Plus, under new rules the Court would be required to ask parents directly whether there had been any incident of violence or abuse, hopefully making it easier for victims to raise allegations.

Keeping kids safe from harm is the aim. The draft bill is now being considered.

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