15 March 2024

Fitzroy Legal Service is pleased to make a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department in response to its exposure draft of the Family Law Amendment Bill (No.2) 2023. 

Following the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Final Report, the Commonwealth Government’s Bill proposes vital amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to support separating couples resolve property and financial matters in a safe and equitable manner. 

Drawing on our family law and family violence practice with victim survivors of family violence and other forms of gender-based violence, FLS recommends a suite of amendments to ensure that the Bill achieves fairer outcomes particularly for victim-survivors of family violence who are most at risk through this process.  

Some of the proposed amendments in the exposure draft include: 

  • The Court should consider the effect of family violence in property settlement matters; We regularly work with victim-survivors who have had their ability to earn an income or contribute to the home limited by the effect of family violence. Many victim-survivors have been unable to work or study because of their ex-partner’s conduct, or because of the mental and physical injuries they have sustained. Fear of not being able to achieve a fair property settlement can also prevent victim-survivor’s from leaving a violent relationship.  
  • The Court should consider the effect of economic and financial abuse as a factor in property settlement matters; Economic and financial abuse fall under the definition of family violence, and we believe it is important form of family violence that should be considered carefully by the Court in property settlement matters. We frequently work on cases where economic abuse has occurred and many clients who have been prevented from entering the workforce by the other party. We believe that including this type of abuse as a factor in the Family Law Act could lead to better outcomes for victim-survivors, as well as better public understanding of this form of abuse.  
  • The Family Law Act should contain a clear decision-making framework to determine property settlements; A substantial proportion of our clients face barriers to accessing justice due to having low English proficiency, limited language, and literacy skills, limited technological literacy and limited knowledge of the law or ability to interpret legislation. We strongly support changes to the Act to make it easier to interpret how a Court would determine a property settlement.  

In addition to the proposed changes, FLS’s submissions recommend that the further changes to the Family Law Act should be considered:  

  • The Family Law Act should specify a threshold hearing be held when one party is seeking to vary final parenting orders; FLS recommends the applicant needs to satisfy the court that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred prior to the court accepting the application.  
  • That section 55A is repealed to separate divorce and parenting considerations; This section currently requires the court to be satisfied that proper arrangements are in place for the care, welfare and development of any children under the age of 18 before granting a divorce. FLS is of the view that divorce and parenting are two separate issues under the Family Law Act and that this section creates a further barrier to those seeking to legally end their marriage.

We welcome the opportunity to join 86 other advocates, family law and women’s safety groups to contribute this important reform. The submission is now available on the Attorney General’s website.

Please read the submission in full:  

Published responses for Exposure Draft: Family Law Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2023 – Attorney-General’s Department – Citizen Space (ag.gov.au) 

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