Changes to the Family Law Act 1975: What Parents Need to Know

A breakdown of the key amendments to the Family Law Act 1975, as of 6 May 2024.

As of 6 May 2024, significant amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 will come into effect, aiming to streamline and improve the family law system for parents and children alike. These are the most significant amendments in relation to parenting since 2006. These changes are designed to make navigating family law proceedings clearer and more focused on the safety and well-being of children.

Here is a breakdown of the key amendments:

1. Removal of the Presumption of Equal Shared Parental Responsibility (“ESPR”)

One notable change is the removal of the presumption of ESPR. Previously, when making a parenting order, the Court was required to apply a presumption that it was in the best interests of children for their parents to have equal shared parental responsibility relating to major long-term issues such as medical and educational decisions. This presumption will no longer exist, allowing for more flexible arrangements based on individual circumstances of each case and what is best for each child. The change has been described as shifting the focus from “parents’ rights” and back to the needs of children.

2. Elimination of Mandatory Consideration for Equal Time Orders

Prior to the amendments, when the Court made an order for ESPR, the Court was required to consider making orders for a child to spend equal time with each of their parents. If an equal time arrangement was not in the best interests of the child or reasonably practicable then the Court was required to consider a “substantial and significant” time arrangement. Now, these requirements have been removed. Instead, decisions regarding the time a child spends with each of their parents will be guided by what is in the best interests of the child, based on the simplified six (6) best interests factors.

3. Simplification of the ‘Best Interests’ Checklist

In an effort to make the determination of a child’s best interests more straightforward, the ‘best interests’ factors have been simplified. The current legislation provides a non-exhaustive list of two (2) primary and 14 additional considerations for determining what is in the best interests. This is being simplified to six (6) factors focusing on:

  • Children’s safety,
  • The views of children,
  • The developmental, psychological, emotional and cultural needs of children,
  • The capacity of those with parental responsibility,
  • The benefit to children of being able to have a relationship with their parents and other significant people,
  • A “catch all” of anything else relevant.

4. Revision of Objects and Principles in Parenting Cases

The objects and principles that apply in parenting cases have been reworked to better reflect the evolving needs of modern families. These revisions aim to ensure that the family law system remains responsive to the diverse circumstances of families while prioritising the safety and well-being of children.

5. Formalisation of Requirements for Independent Children’s Lawyers (“ICLs”)

Another important change is the legislative codification of the requirements for ICLs. These lawyers, who represent the interests of the child in family law proceedings, will now be mandated to meet with the children and seek their views directly. This ensures that children have a voice in the legal process and that their perspectives are taken into account when decisions are made about their future.

Overall, these amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 signify a significant step towards a more responsive and child-focused family law system. By removing rigid assumptions, simplifying procedures, and prioritising the best interests of the child, these changes aim to support families in navigating the complexities of separation and divorce while safeguarding the well-being of the children.

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The information in this article is not legal advice and is intended to provide commentary and general information only. It should not be relied upon or used as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant law. You should obtain formal legal advice specific to your particular circumstance. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.