Issue 86

Family Matters No. 86, 2011

Journal issue feature image

Family law

Family Matters No. 86 focuses on family law covering such topics as a summary of the AIFS evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms, care time arrangements ater the 2006 reforms, post-separation parenting, child support, relocation disputes, work-family strain amongst mothers

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Executive Editor: Rae Kaspiew

Editorial panel: Jennifer Baxter, Leah Bromfield, Ben Edwards, Matthew Gray, Kelly Hand, Alan Hayes, Rosemary Hunter, Rae Kaspiew, Lawrie Moloney, Ruth Weston

Editor: Lan Wang and Kelly Robinson

Cover art: The Family Matters 86 cover painting is by Belinda Messer, Summer Abstract, oil painting on canvas. Courtesy of BKM.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 86
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2011, 88 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


"Founded on observation of the seen heavens": Empirical evidence about family law

Rae Kaspiew

This edition of Family Matters focuses on family law. In the past year, the empirical evidence base about the operation of our family law system has grown exponentially. The Australian Institute of Family Studies Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms  (the AIFS Evaluation) (Kaspiew et al., 2009) represents the largest and most detailed examination of any system internationally. A range of other research projects has also come to fruition, collectively providing an evidence base about our system that is the envy of international policy-makers, practitioners and researchers. This article provides an overview of key pieces of research on the family law system discussed in this edition.

The AIFS evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms: A summary

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

In 2006, a series of changes to the family law system were introduced. These included changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and increased funding for new and expanded family relationships services, including the establishment of 65 Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) and a national advice line. The aim of the reforms was to bring about "generational change in family law" and a "cultural shift" in the management of separation, "away from litigation and towards cooperative parenting". The AIFS Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms was based on an extensive research program and provides a comprehensive evidence base on the operation of the family law system. The Evaluation was based on three main projects: the Legislation and Courts Project, the Service Provision Project and the Families Project. The research design focused on examining the extent to which key aspects of the objectives underpinning the reforms had been achieved. The Evaluation involved the collection of data from 28,000 people involved in the family law system, including parents, grandparents, family relationship services staff, clients of family relationship services, lawyers, court professionals and judicial officers. It also involved the analysis of administrative data and court files. This article outlines the key research questions and findings from the Evaluation.

Care-time arrangements after the 2006 reforms: Implications for children and their parents

Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu, Matthew Gray, Rae Kaspiew, Lawrie Moloney and Kelly Hand

by Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu, Matthew Gray, Rae Kaspiew, Lawrie Moloney, Kelly Hand and the Family Law Evaluation Team
Family Matters Issue 86, 2011, pp. 19-32

The 2006 family law reforms were designed to strengthen family relationships regardless of the parents' relationship status, and to protect and promote children's wellbeing. A key question that arises from the changes is: Under what circumstances are children advantaged or disadvantaged by arrangements that set out or encourage significant amounts of time with both parents? This article therefore examines four issues: the prevalence of different care-time arrangements in families that experienced parental separation after July 2006; parents' views about the flexibility and workability of their arrangements; characteristics of families with different care-time arrangements; and the strength of the relationship between child wellbeing on the one hand, and care-time arrangements and family dynamics on the other. The analysis is based on Wave 1 of a survey of 10,002 parents who participated in the first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Separated Families in 2008.

Shared post-separation parenting: Pathways and outcomes for parents

Belinda Fehlberg, Christine Millward and Monica Campo

This article presents key findings from the first year of the Post-Separation Parenting and Financial Settlements study, conducted at the Melbourne University Law School and funded by the Australian Research Council. It focuses on 32 in-depth interviews conducted in 2009 with parents in post-separation shared care arrangements, drawn from a qualitative sample of 60. The article summarises findings concerning pathways into, and experiences of, shared post-separation parenting in a range of situations, including both conflicted and amenable arrangements. While no claim is made that these experiences are representative of the population of separated parents with shared care arrangements, the qualitative data can throw light on what some of the quantitative trends mean in the everyday lives of families who fit those trends, while also perhaps identifying and exploring other experiences.

Post-separation parenting arrangements: Patterns and developmental outcomes: Studies of two risk groups

Jennifer McIntosh, Bruce Smyth, Margaret Kelaher, Yvonne Wells and Caroline Long

The importance for children's wellbeing, long-term adjustment and maintenance of loving and supportive relationships with both parents after divorce is well documented. However, questions remain about links between parenting arrangements and relationship outcomes, specifically in terms of the ways that shared overnight care after separation may interact with complex developmental or family circumstances to influence children's outcomes. This article summarises two recent Australian studies of post-separation shared parenting arrangements, with a focus on developmental outcomes for children in two risk groups: children living with ongoing parental conflict after separation, and infants and pre-schoolers. Both studies help to illuminate the socio-economic, relationship and developmental "equipment" required for translating a shared time arrangement post separation into a developmentally supportive experience for the children concerned.

The effect of family violence on post-separation parenting arrangements: The experiences and views of children and adults from families who separated post-1995 and post-2006

Dale Bagshaw, Thea Brown, Sarah Wendt, Alan Campbell, Elspeth McInnes, Beth Tinning, Becky Batagol, Adiva Sifris, Danielle Tyson, Joanne Baker and Paula Fernandez Arias

In 2009, the Australian Attorney-General commissioned research into family law and family violence in Australia, with a focus on the relationship between people's experiences of family violence and decisions made about post-separation parenting, with and without assistance from service providers in the family law system. The study included adults and children who had separated after 1995 and after the introduction of the Family Law (Shared Parental Responsibility) Amendment Act(Cth) in 2006. This article reports key findings of two national online surveys with adults and children in relation to post-separation parenting, which formed part of the larger research. Adult respondents described how family violence affected their parenting arrangements and their use of family services to assist with parenting decisions. There were gender differences in the reported experiences of and responses to violence, with women reporting more serious forms of violence than men. Many adults felt dissatisfied with service providers' acknowledgement and appreciation of the impact of family violence on adult and child victims. Adults were most dissatisfied with services for decision-making regarding planning for their children's care post separation. Their concern for their children's safety was supported by children's own reports. The study raised many questions about how well family law policies, as expressed in the legislation and implemented in the national service system, respond to family violence in families such as those who were involved in this research.

Mothers who are liable to pay child support

Christine Millward, Monica Campo and Belinda Fehlberg

Due to major family law and child support changes implemented during 2006-08, it is now more likely than ever before that mothers will be assessed to pay child support when parents separate. There is, however, a lack of research around mothers who are liable to pay child support to their ex-spouse or partner. This article looks at 11 cases in which mothers were described as being liable to pay child support in 2009. The cases were drawn from a sample of 60 interviews with parents participating in the Post-Separation Parenting and Financial Settlements project - a qualitative, longitudinal study being conducted at the Melbourne University Law School and funded by the Australian Research Council (see Sample and Method boxes at the end of this article for details). The analysis suggests that there are systemic and cultural factors that come into play in cases involving mothers liable to pay child support to fathers, which arise from women's lower wealth and income levels and their greater responsibility for children's daily care and activities both before and after separation.

Relocation disputes in separated families prior to the 2006 reforms: An empirical study

Rae Kaspiew, Juliet Behrens and Bruce Smyth

This article reports on the findings of a mixed-method research project that examined relocation cases litigated prior to the 2006 reforms to the family law system. The study examined relocation cases decided in a two-year period prior to the introduction of the 2006 family law reform package. The Australian Research Council-funded study was based on an analysis of 190 court judgments made between 2002 and 2004 in the Family Court of Australia (FCoA), and qualitative interviews with 38 parties to relocation disputes litigated in one of the family law courts between 2002 and mid-2005. This article describes findings from each part of the study, beginning with the quantitative component based on judgment analysis. This is followed by an examination of the key themes from the qualitative data. A key finding from the study is that most litigated disputes over relocation between separated partners occur in the context of conflict and fractured inter-parental relationships. The evidence from the study about the types of cases where courts decide whether one party (usually a mother with residence of the child[ren]) should be permitted to move with the child(ren) suggests that relocation post-separation is more a product of conflict than the single source of conflict. This finding applies to the majority of cases examined in the study, with only a minority of cases demonstrating a pattern where a proposed relocation was in itself the single main source of conflict.

Persistent work-family strain among Australian mothers

Ibolya Losoncz

Achieving work and family life balance has been the focal theme of Australian Government policy work and social research for the last decade, particularly for mothers of dependent children, with their increasing labour force participation. One key focus of research on mothers' labour force participation is work-family strain. The aim of this present paper is to improve our understanding of persistent work-family strain by identifying mothers who are most at risk of experiencing long-term tension between work and family responsibilities, and comparing their characteristics and circumstances with mothers whose experience of work and family tension was relatively brief.