Family law and family separation

The present form of the family law system in Australia was shaped initially by the enactment of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and the establishment of the Family Court of Australia in 1976. The court continues to exercise jurisdiction in matters involving divorce, children’s issues, property and maintenance alongside the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (established in 2000). The Family Court of Western Australia exercises jurisdiction in these matters in Western Australia.

Since 1975, a range of social changes and policy shifts have continued to influence the system in significant ways. These are reflected in many different amendments to the Family Law Act, including:

  • the introduction of the presumption in favour of equal shared parental responsibility in 2006
  • provisions placing increased emphasis on the need to protect children from harm from exposure to abuse and family violence in 2012.

At the same time, there have been shifts in the composition of the system of services that assist families with relationship breakdown, most evident in 2006 through the introduction of a network of 65 Family Relationships Centres providing, advice, support, assistance and family dispute resolution services.

AIFS research

Separation has been a core focus for AIFS since its establishment in 1980 (under the Family Law Act). Through an extensive and long-standing research program, we have examined a range of family law-related issues.

Evaluations of two successive sets of reforms to the Family Law Act are multi-method flagship projects that not only examined the impact of the reforms but also developed a significant empirical evidence base that continues to be highly relevant. These evaluations are:

In addition to these projects, AIFS has undertaken a range of other projects on separation and family law. These include:

Related publications

The evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments

The evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms

Child participation and the needs of children and young people in separated families

Direct cross-examination in family law matters involving family violence.


Rae Kaspiew
Senior Research Fellow

Lixia Qu
Senior Research Fellow

Rachel Carson
Senior Research Fellow

John De Maio
Research Fellow

Briony Horsfall
Senior Research Officer

Emily Stevens
Research Officer

More information

AIFS news

Get the latest news about our publications, research and upcoming events.