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Long-awaited reforms to the Family Law Act could see family violence considered as an important factor in property disputes and are being hailed as an important step in delivering justice and fairness for all Australian families, especially children.

The Federal Government released draft legislation and a consultation paper on Monday 18 September, which aims to simplify key principles for property settlement in the Family Law Act to assist separating parties, legal representatives, and the courts. 

Family violence has always been a consideration in court rulings, but it has never been mentioned explicitly in the Family Law Act, one of the many challenges highlighted by the 2019 Australian Law Reform Commission Report and presented to the former coalition government. 

“We see that there is a real appetite for reform of the Family Law Act,” Attorney General Mark Dreyfus told the ABC. 

“It will enable the court to recognise that family violence carries real financial impact, and is something that can be directly taken into account in family law property determinations by the courts. 

“Imposing a clear duty on all parties to dispute under the Family Law Act is important, and we think that it will support early resolution of disputes,” Dreyfus said. 

This reform proposal follows the introduction of new regulations to ensure that allegations of family violence can be taken into account in matters concerning the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, as well as two bills currently in the Senate to amend the Family Law Act. 

The draft also includes a duty of disclosure to prevent separating couples from hiding assets from each other. It will outline specific requirements about what information needs to be shared by parties to property disputes, and the consequences for not complying. 

Lawyer and Sexual Violence and DFV Prevention Advocate Angela Lynch welcomed the news and highlighted the immense financial burden placed on survivors of domestic and family violence and said the draft legislation will assist in achieving fairer outcomes.  

“What we have seen over decades is women being driven into poverty and homelessness after separation, often women in circumstances of domestic violence will also walk away with absolutely nothing,” Angela Lynch said in a LinkedIn post.  

The accompanying consultation paper seeks feedback on the proposed amendments and will help improve the drafting and implementation of the reforms. 

Submissions on the draft legislation are due on 10 November 2023. 

Information on how to make a submission is available at Exposure Draft: Family Law Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2023 - Attorney-General’s Department consultation hub.