Amendments to the Family Law Act

On 7 December 2011 new amendments to the Family Law Act were passed. The new legislation commences on 7 June 2012.

The amendments include an updated definition of family violence to include violent, threatening or other behavior by a person who coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member) or causes the family member to be fearful.

The Amendment then goes on to give specific examples of behavior that may constitute family violence.

There is a focus on what circumstances may expose children to family violence, including hearing violent behavior, comforting family members following an assault, and cleaning up after property has been intentionally broken.

Other additions include violence or threatened violence to family pets, unreasonable withholding of financial support and isolating the family member from their own family.

There is an emphasis on abuse of children and the circumstances in which a child may be considered to have been exposed to family violence are detailed in the new amendments.

Considering the above, the response from certain sectors of the community may be that domestic relationships are over controlled. At some time during the life of many relationships haven’t we all done a least one of those prohibited acts?

Haven’t we argued in front of the kids about money? Haven’t we told our partners that we can’t stand their brother/sister/mother and have refused to have them over to Christmas lunch?

Whether this is true of our own, or any relationship, is irrelevant, and this is not what the amendments seek to address.

Somehow the belief that the way we treat family members should be allowed to be different from the way we treat our peers has seeped into our culture.

 Family violence is about power. Relationships which are founded on power imbalances are especially vulnerable to family violence.  The private nature of family relationships in western culture protect abusers and silence their victims.

 Amendments to the Family Law Act provide a framework to assist the courts when family violence is an issue.

 Real change in family violence statistics will only be seen when community attitudes towards women and children progress to a point where violence perpetrated against them in the home is seen by the community as more than simply a private family matter.

act 2011 (189/2011)

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