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Changes to the Family Law Act 1975

For those of you unaware, the Family Law System in Australia is undergoing some major structural changes. From 6 May 2024, new changes to the Family Law Act 1975 will commence.   


What will this mean? 

These changes will be particularly relevant to separated families who are deciding the future parenting arrangements for their children. Any new proceedings filed on or after this date will be determined using the new legislative pathway by Judges and Registrars.  


If you are already in Court, then unless your matter has been set for a trial and you’ve been given a trial date, then these new principles will also apply to your proceedings. These changes are not retrospective, however. They will only apply to matters decided from 6 May 2024. 

What are some of the changes?  

The first major change is in relation to the ‘best interest’ factors that the Court will need to take into account when determining parenting arrangements. Rather than adding to the existing list, it has been simplified and reduced from 15 to 6 key principles.  


The meaningful relationship between a Child and their parents remains a key principle, however, it is alongside 5 other equally important considerations including the child’s views, the child’s needs and the capacity of the parents to provide for these, as well as broadening the benefit of a meaningful relationship to other significant people to a child, for example, siblings. The need for safety of a child and for this to be given greater weight than the other principles remain in place with these new changes.   


The second major change is the removal of the presumption of “Equal Shared Parental Responsibility”.  This relates to the decision-making responsibility of major long-term issues that will affect the child. If the presumption applies, parents share this responsibility to make those major long-term decision for their children together.   


There has been a lot of confusion over the years by parents from the description used for this responsibility. It has been commonly misunderstood as relating to equal time arrangements. The new changes have re-named this to “Joint Decision Making” to make this easier.  


There were exceptions to this presumption, if there were significant risk factors or circumstances that prevented parents from being able to make joint decisions for their children. However, the presumption was rarely ever rebutted.  


In addition to this, the current law provides that where the presumption of Equal Shared Parental Responsibility applies, then the Court is required to consider making an equal time Order, and if that is not practicable, then an Order for the children to live with one parent and spend significant or substantial time with the other.    


These new changes mean that there is no longer any reference to “equal time or significant and substantial time”. From May 2024, the Court will decide the time that children spend with each parent based on what is in a child’s best interests. 


These amendments are designed to improve the family law system ensuring that the best interest of children remain at the forefront and are the priority.   


There are more changes that may affect your situation than the ones covered in this article. For our next article, we will expand more on these others.  


If you have any questions or concerns about your situation, it is a good idea to speak to a family lawyer to see how these changes may apply to you. 


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