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Family Law Amendments will make welfare of children the primary concern

By Shayne Neumann - posted Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Howard Government got it wrong on shared parenting and the protection of children. In 2006, without any social research and in a knee jerk reaction to the urgings of a vocal minority of men’s groups, the Howard Government made sweeping changes to the Family Law Act (‘the Act’) in parenting matters.

By elevating the rights of parents above the need to protect children, the Howard Government fettered judicial discretion and created a legislative pathway fixated on shared parenting.

The changes have been much criticised in reports such as the:

  • Family Courts Violence Review by Professor Richard Chisolm AM.
  • Australian Institute of Family Studies - Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms.
  • Family Law Council - Improving Responses to Family Violence in the Family Law System.

A culture of expectation developed that it was worthwhile for children to continue regular contact with a parent - even if it meant exposing that child to abuse, neglect and family violence.

Time and again parents felt compelled to agree to contact arrangements for fear of running foul of the friendly parent provision imposed by the 2006 changes.

The task confronting any Court where allegations are made is daunting - more so in the pressure cooker of an interim hearing usually shortly after separation and without the benefit of detailed affidavits or cross examination.

The ramifications of terminating all contact between parent and child can be many and long term.

But the balance needs to be restored in favour of the protection of children.


It is restored by the amendments to the Act contained in the proposed Family Law Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2010 ("the Bill") released by Attorney-General Robert McClelland on the 11th November 2010. Public consultation is open until 14th January 2011.

The Bill incorporates, for the first time, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - compelling the Court to consider the Convention in deciding matters concerning children.

The Bill elevates the primary consideration of protecting a child from abuse, neglect and family violence over the benefit of having a meaningful relationship with a parent where there is an inconsistency.

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About the Author

Shayne Neumann is the Labor member for Blair. Before entering parliament in 2007 he was a family law specialist and partner at Neumann Turnour Lawyers in Brisbane.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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