Laws and families

Our research expertise

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.

Relationship breakdown 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, including:

  • the functioning of the family law system, including family dispute resolution and mechanisms for the support of children
  • parenting post-separation
  • family violence and child safety
  • the operation and impact of the Family Law Act
  • the economic impact of relationship breakdown
  • the service needs of families after separation
  • the intersection between child protection agencies and the family law system.

Past projects

Evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments
This project examined the impacts of changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in the area of family violence.

Family Pathways 
Family Pathways were a series of studies of separated families in Australia. The studies aimed to understand how changes to the family law system affect the lives of separated parents and their children.

Selected publications

Families, policy and the law: Selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia
This book seeks to explore some of the complexities that confront both those who frame social policy and those involved in the legal systems that intersect with child and family issues.

Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law reforms
This report presents the findings of the Institute's evaluation of the 2005 Family Law reforms.

Study of Independent Children's Lawyers: Final report
A report commissioned by the Attorney-General's Department that examined the use of independent children's lawyers in the family law system.

Survey of recently separated parents: Final report
A central aim of the research was to gain a more detailed understanding of parents' experiences of, and system responses, to family violence.

Post-separation parenting, property and relationship dynamics after five years (2014)
This report for the Attorney General's Department presents findings from Wave 3 of the Longitudinal Study of Separated Families. 

Did you know ...

Just 11% of separated parents resort to family courts for determining their parenting arrangements.

Find out more


Rae Kaspiew
Senior Research Fellow

Ruth Weston PSM
Senior Research Fellow

Lixia Qu
Senior Research Fellow

Rachel Carson
Research Fellow

John De Maio
Research Fellow

Antonia Quadara
Research Fellow

More information

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