This week in parliament I called for the government to amend section 61DA of the Family Law Act which contains the “presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child”.
Unfortunately, this section is commonly misunderstood to presume that parents should exactly equally share their time caring for children post separation. This is rarely a practical outcome. Moreover, this not being what the provision means, the misconception has created an incentive for violent men to litigate and this is dangerous to women and children trying to escape from their abusers.
The murder of Hannah Clarke and her beautiful children has devastated Australians. Hannah took all the right steps to protect her children from her abusive, estranged husband and yet, it wasn’t enough. This is a wakeup call. The Australian Parliament needs to change our system in order to better protect victims of domestic violence.
There is no doubt that the Family Law System desperately needs improvement. The House of Representatives report of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs had 33 recommendations to improve the family law system and the Australian Law Reform Commission 2019 report into the family law system put forward 60 recommendations.
The Women’s Legal Service Queensland has also called on the Morrison Government to follow the recommendation of the ALRC report and immediately remove the problematic section from the Family Law Act.
We cannot sit back and allow the domestic violence crisis that Australia faces to continue. Amending section 61DA is not the complete solution but it is a small, practical step that should be taken.