Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms

Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms

Rae Kaspiew, Matthew Gray, Ruth Weston, Lawrie Moloney, Kelly Hand, Lixia Qu and the Family Law Evaluation Team

Report— December 2009
Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms

In 2006, the Australian Government introduced a series of changes to the family law system. These included changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) through the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (Cth) (SPR Act 2006) and changes to the family relationship services system. In broad terms, the aim of the reforms was to bring about "generational change in family law" and a "cultural shift" in the management of parental separation, "away from litigation and towards co-operative parenting". The changes were partly shaped by the recognition that the focus must always be on the best interests of the child and that many of the disputes over children following separation are driven primarily by relationship problems rather than legal ones and are often better suited to community-based interventions.

The policy objectives of the 2006 changes to the family system were to:

  1. help to build strong healthy relationships and prevent separation;
  2. encourage greater involvement by both parents in their children's lives after separation, and also protect children from violence and abuse;
  3. help separated parents agree on what is best for their children (rather than litigating), through the provision of useful information and advice, and effective dispute resolution services; and
  4. establish a highly visible entry point that operates as a doorway to other services and helps families to access these other services.

The changes to the service delivery system included the establishment of 65 Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) throughout Australia, the Family Relationship Advice Line (FRAL) and Family Relationships Online (FRO), funding for new relationship services, and additional funding for existing relationship services. The legislative changes comprised four main elements that:

  • require parents to attend family dispute resolution (FDR) before filing a court application, except in certain circumstances, including where there are concerns about family violence and child abuse;
  • place increased emphasis on the need for both parents to be involved in their children's lives after separation through a range of provisions, including the introduction of a presumption in favour of equal shared parental responsibility;
  • place greater emphasis on the need to protect children from exposure to family violence and child abuse; and
  • introduce legislative support for less adversarial court processes in children's matters.

In 2006, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) was commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department and Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to undertake an evaluation of the impact of the 2006 changes. The evaluation has involved the collection of data from some 28,000 people involved or potentially involved in the family law system - including parents, grandparents, family relationship service staff, clients of family relationship services, lawyers, court professionals and judicial officers - and the analysis of administrative data and court files. This evaluation provides a more extensive evidence base about the use and operation of the family law system in Australia (and arguably internationally) than has previously been available.

Acknowledgements

This report was commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

The authors would like to acknowledge and thank all of those who participated in or assisted with the evaluation, including: the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Magistrates Court, the Family Court of Western Australia, the Child Support Agency, family relationship service providers, Family Relationship Services Australia, Council on the Aging New South Wales, Mensline Australia and the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. We also acknowledge the helpful assistance of staff from the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department and the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

While many staff at Australian Institute of Family Studies contributed to the fieldwork and report, we especially would like to acknowledge Leah Bromfield, Ben Edwards, Daryl Higgins, Melissa Johnstone, Robyn Parker, Antonia Quadara, Nick Richardson, Elly Robinson, Jennifer Russell, Diana Smart, Sarah Williams and Suzie Vassallo.

We would particularly like to acknowledge the major contribution made by Associate Professor Bruce Smyth to the development of the Evaluation Framework and design of a number of the studies. We are also grateful to Professor Richard Chisholm, who assisted in the development of the Evaluation Framework. Associate Professor Smyth and Professor Chisholm also made major contributions to the analysis of the Family Lawyers Survey 2006.

We extend special thanks to Professor Alan Hayes, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, for his expertise, advice, insightful comments on the report and unwavering support at all times.

Of course, the evaluation would not have been possible without the 28,000 people who provided information about their lives or professional experiences during the course of the evaluation, including parents, grandparents, family relationship service staff, lawyers, judicial officers, family consultants and professional staff in the three family courts. Without this generous willingness to participate, the evaluation would not have been possible.  

Publication details

Report
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2009.
405 pp.
ISBN: 
987-1-921414-22-0
Suggested citation:

Kaspiew, R., Gray, M., Weston, R., Moloney, L., Hand, K., Qu, L., & the Family Law Evaluation Team. (2009). Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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