Two weeks ago, The Australian Attorney-General announced his intension to change the Family Law Act to centre on the best interests of the children. He has released an ‘exposure draft’ of the changes he wants made to the existing legislation and asked for comments.
The previous government commissioned six reviews into the Family Law Act and its operations in six years and yet made few changes and ignored recommendations from the most extensive review. The new Attorney General has taken notice of the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry (the most extensive) and others, and highlights key challenges:
- The need to be more responsive to family violence, child abuse and neglect
- Overly complex and confusing legislation that is a barrier to vulnerable users of the system and creates community misperceptions about the law
- Inconsistency in the competency and accountability of various types of family law professionals
- A lack of culturally appropriate court processes and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families
- Hardship and financial burden caused by protracted and adversarial litigation
- Lack of support for children, including to express their views, and
- Non-compliance with, and ineffective enforcement of, parenting orders.
The Government says it wants to improve the family law system so that it is “accessible, safer, simpler to use, and delivers justice and fairness for all Australian families. In particular with this Bill…the Government is seeking to ensure that the best interests of children are prioritised and placed at the centre of the system and its operation.” (from the Consultation Paper)
The process of change
We are pleased to have a government prepared to engage with these critical issues, but remain cautious after six detailed submissions to the Federal government about Family Law in six years – a lot of words and a lot of member experiences and stories.
We know these processes do not always give us the results we want. We also know that restating our case in as many ways as we can, with as many allies as we can find, is what may move us forward.
These are the steps we can see and some we are working to bring about:
1: Commenting on the exposure draft – due 27 February 2023
This is key challenge. The legal draft is difficult as it refers to removing portions of the legislation that we then need to look up to comment on. The Consultation Paper is 40 pages long with 43 questions to answer. We have only 14 days – only eight working days. We have asked for more time, but have not been granted it as they want to get this first version into parliament quickly so they can get the process moving.
We have previous submissions to work from and hopefully a few CSMC members to assist.
2: Senate Committee Review
This will happen soon after the Bill goes to parliament. It will have a longer timeframe and simpler ways to input and tell stories. It is here that we can contribute members views and hope to have many of our members engage.
3: Meeting the politicians and telling stories
This will happen both at the Senate Committee and in some special events we are hoping and planning with allies to organise.
However, this is not straightforward:
- Your personal story of the family law can only be told in a CONFIDENTIAL submission to a parliamentary committee or in a private meeting with politicians.
- If we, or you, publish any details of your matter, we/you can be charged under section 121(1) of the Family Law Act which prohibits publishing specific details of family law proceedings.
We plan to hold preparation sessions with mums who want to tell their stories. This is complicated because of the limitation above so we hope to get pro bono lawyers to work with us to hold storytelling sessions so you can write or tell your story safely to politicians, or the media.
This will happen in a couple of months.
Want to get involved now?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us how you would like to engage:
- Read the consultation draft and answer one or more questions
- Help plan and conduct storytelling sessions
- Come to storytelling preparation session about your family law experience.
Please include your name and phone number.
Council of Single Mothers and their Children is working to achieve a society that ensures social and economic inclusion for all single mothers and their children, across their lives.