Family Law Information Sharing
Children, families and individuals affected by family violence, child abuse or neglect often interact with both the federal family law system and state and territory systems and agencies responsible for responding to family violence and child protection. It is important that decision‑makers across these systems have timely access to family safety information to support informed decision-making to protect and promote the best interests and safety of any children, their families and individuals impacted by family violence or child-abuse risk.
We are working in partnership with the Family Violence Working Group, a sub-committee of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, on several projects to improve collaboration between these systems to streamline processes and practices.
The National Strategic Framework for Information Sharing between the Family Law and Family Violence and Child Protection Systems (National Framework) is an agreement for nationally consistent, two-way information sharing between the federal family law courts and state and territory courts, child protection, policing and firearms agencies.
The National Framework was endorsed by Attorneys-General on 12 November 2021, at the then Meeting of Attorneys-General.
The primary objective of the National Framework is to promote the safety and wellbeing of adults and children affected by family violence, child abuse and neglect while supporting informed and appropriate decision-making in circumstances where there is, or may be, a risk of family violence, child abuse or neglect.
The National Framework responds to recent inquiries into the family law and family violence systems that identified the need for better information sharing between the family law system and state and territory family violence and child protection systems. The National Framework will build on the success of the Co-location Program to remove barriers to information sharing and eliminate gaps between these intersecting systems.
Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023
The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 (the Act) commences on 6 May 2024.
The Act amends the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to operationalise key parts of the National Framework. It does this by providing a court-driven way to enhance the sharing of child abuse, neglect, and family violence risk information in family law matters.
Specifically, the Act:
- repeals section 69ZW of the Family Law Act and introduces new Subdivision DA in Part VII of the Family Law Act, which deals with sharing information relating to relating to family violence, child abuse and neglect in child-related proceedings
- introduces a new order for particulars of documents or information held by information sharing agencies (state and territory child protection, police and firearms agencies and the Australian Federal Police for the Australian Capital Territory)
- introduces a broadened order for the court to require information sharing agencies to produce documents or information
- introduces a new category of protected information that is not required to be shared by information sharing agencies
- includes provisions about the admission of relevant shared information in proceedings, and instances where otherwise protected material can be shared and disclosed
- protects against the disclosure of information that identifies a notifier of suspected family violence or child abuse (except in limited circumstances)
- introduces a requirement for parties to seek the court’s permission to issue a subpoena to an information sharing agency that has been ordered to produce documents or information
- empowers the prescription of additional information sharing safeguards in the Family Law Regulations 1984 (Cth)
- requires provisions to be reviewed at both 12 months and 3 years after they commence.
Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Regulations 2023
The Act will be supported by the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Regulations 2023 (Cth) (the Regulations).These amend the Family Law Regulations 1984. The Regulations will commence alongside the Act on 6 May 2024.
- prescribe state and territory agencies (or parts of agencies) that are responsible for child protection, policing and firearms as information sharing agencies for the purposes of new Subdivision DA of the Act
- prescribe new information sharing safeguards to support the safe provision, access, storage and use of information under new Subdivision DA of the Act support the safe provision, access, storage, and use of information under new Subdivision DA of the Act,
- repeal Regulation 12CD and Schedule 9 of the Family Law Regulations.
The new information sharing safeguards include provisions that aim to:
- support reasonable care being taken to protect those involved in, or affected by, information sharing from physical and psychological harm
- prevent material from being provided, stored or used improperly
- embed data minimisation best practice, while maintaining compliance with record keeping obligations, including by only sharing material to the extent necessary to support decision-making
- provide clear expectations on correcting identified errors in the shared material
- provide guidance where material is requested that is not in the possession or control of a court or agency.
The Co-location Program involves the co-location of state and territory child protection and policing officials in select family law registries around Australia. The Co-location Program supports the timely sharing of relevant information between family law courts, child protection and policing agencies, fostering a more coordinated response to family safety issues in family law disputes. This is helping to ensure family law judges have relevant information about family violence and child-abuse risks as early as possible in proceedings.
The Co-location Program complements the National Framework’s enhanced information sharing framework. The National Framework implementation includes extending Commonwealth funding for the successful Co-location Program until 30 June 2025.
The Co-location Pilot has been independently evaluated.