Two weeks ago, Andi, CSMC’s Policy and Communications Coordinator, and Michelle and Charisse, two of our passionate single mother members boarded a plane to Canberra. There they joined Terese Edwards, CEO of Single Mother Families Australia, and headed into Parliament House to appear before a Senate committee to tell their stories and to call for Family Law reform in this country.
Now, a massive overhaul of the nation’s family laws looks set to go ahead.
In May 2023, the Senate referred the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry.
The proposed legislation considered by the Senate Committee would repeal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility, which is often misinterpreted as a presumption of equal shared time between both parents.
“As a victim-survivor of family violence, I left my abusive partner more than eight years ago and have endured unrelenting, unabated coercive control ever since, largely through the power and control that our Family Court orders have afforded him,” Michelle told the Senate Committee.
“We have equal shared care and responsibility, with our children shifting between our households every week. The children are sent to the abuse that I escaped from. The impacts on them are devastating and lasting.”
You can watch the video of the Senate committee hearing here. You can jump straight to the CSMC section, it starts at 12:57.
The Senate Committee, in front of which Andi and our members appeared, has now considered amendments to the Family Law Act and released its report. It wants the bill passed.
If the legislation is passed, the recommendation of the Committee is that it would put more focus on a child’s best interests and their safety than on equal shared parental time.
According to the Committee, “a history of family violence, abuse and neglect as a general consideration in determining what is in the child’s best interests” is critical.
The Committee has found that there should also be more consideration of the child’s perspective, particularly in relation to the use of The Hague convention on child abduction. The convention was put in place to stop non-custodial parents abducting children, but has been misused against women escaping family violence.
The Committee also recommended that safeguards be put in place to prevent violent ex-partners abusing subpoenas to gain access to personal information, including counselling notes, medical files and home addresses.
CSMC has been advocating for safeguards to protect mothers from the scourge of what is commonly referred to as ‘legal systems abuse’. The legal system abuse we see includes situations where alleged domestic violence perpetrators drag out litigation, introduce frivolous applications and force the victim-survivor to repeatedly be in the same venue as their abuser.
The proposed new legislation also includes ‘harmful proceedings orders’, which would “protect the respondent and/or children who are the subject of proceedings from the harmful impact of frequent and unnecessary applications filed by an applicant”.
For anyone who wants to read the Senate report, you can find it here. It is a long read and the government has not yet responded but we are optimistic that most of the proposed changes to the Bill will be made.
We at CSMC are hugely grateful to the two women who travelled to Canberra to not only speak on their own and their children’s behalf, but on behalf of all the women who have long been silenced by the court. In an ideal world, all our members who wanted to would have had this chance. In the reality, we have been able to support two and they have tried to speak for you as well.
We post this summary today with respect to them and to all of you. May the change happen and be real.