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Transforming the Family Law System - Budget 2017

9 May 2017

The Turnbull Government today announces the first comprehensive review into the family law system since the commencement of the Family Law Act in 1976, paving the way for long term fundamental reform to better meet the needs of modern Australian families. As well, the Government announces an $80 million funding boost to frontline family law and family violence services.

This additional investment includes:

  • $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings;
  • $10.7 million for additional family consultants to deal with family law cases;
  • $3.4 million for additional domestic violence units; and
  • $55.7 million boost to Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (announced on 24 April 2017).

It has now been over 40 years since the framework of the family law system was established under the Family Law Act 1975. I will direct the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct the comprehensive review with a view to making necessary reforms to ensure the family law system meets the contemporary needs of families and effectively addresses family violence and child abuse.

This review will report by the end of 2018 with interim reports to be delivered on key issues, providing a long overdue roadmap to contemporise the system.

The Government will also soon release, for public consultation, amendments to the Family Law Act to ensure that victims of family violence are not put in a position where they are personally cross-examined by alleged perpetrators, or required themselves to cross-examine their alleged perpetrator. This follows close collaboration with stakeholders to respond to concerns that family violence victims may experience further trauma from being directly cross-examined.

As well, the Government announces important changes to assist with the resolution of parenting disputes and to improve the ability of courts to make faster and higher quality decisions.

Firstly, the Turnbull Government will invest $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings – an innovative forum for resolving simpler family law disputes between self-represented litigants. Unlike the traditional system where two opposing sides present their cases, those managing the hearings will run inquiries and gather evidence to inform their decisions. This new approach will be initially rolled out in Parramatta, with a second early site to be identified in consultation with stakeholders.

Secondly, to assist having cases involving vulnerable families dealt with sooner, $10.7 million will be directed to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia to engage more family consultants. Family consultants are qualified social workers and psychologists who specialise in child and family issues after separation or divorce. This will give courts earlier access to independent assessments of family issues, including the best interests of children.

The Government is also injecting a further $3.4 million over two years to expand the domestic violence unit pilot, established as part of the Women's Safety Package in September 2015. This new funding will establish up to six new domestic violence units that deliver integrated specialist legal and social support to women experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and family violence.