This week, I will be introducing a Private Members Bill to amend the Family Law Act. The Bill was drafted earlier this year in response to the horrendous murder of Hannah Clarke and her children here in Brisbane.
This important Bill seeks to address concerns raised repeatedly for many years about the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility following a 2006 change to the Family Law Act. Concerns have been raised in reports from Parliamentary Committees and other organisations including the Australian Law Reform Commission, and from many frontline service organisations including Women’s Legal Services Australia, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, Women’s Safety NSW and 90 other organisations including organisations providing support for men.
In 2006, the Howard Government amended the Family Law Act by inserting 61DA: the presumption of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’. Most people think that ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ means that parents have a right to equal time with their children. That is not the law now and it has never been the law.
Parental responsibility for a child includes the responsibility to make long term decisions such as where they live and go to school, medical treatment and whether the child should have a religious upbringing.
The current law is actually that both parents, from the birth of their child, have parental responsibility for that child until a court makes a different order. This Private Members Bill will not change that legal assumption.
A judge can make an order for ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ or ‘sole parental responsibility’. This Private Members Bill will not change that.
When making any order about a child, a court must have regard to the best interests of the child: it is the most important consideration. This Private Members Bill will not change that law.
What this Private Members Bill will do is make the law clearer for all separating families, and less expensive for the three per cent of separating families who can’t reach agreement and therefore need to go to court. It will do this by removing a presumption that is generally misused and misunderstood. It will streamline decision-making about the time a child spends with each parent, confirming the best interests of the child should be the only focus when decisions are being made.
This change is good news for Australian children!