Changes to the Family Law Act (federal law)

Changes have recently been made to the FL Act that directly relate to family violence; some changes have already come into operation, while further changes are proposed. Many of these changes aim to align state and federal laws.

Some of these changes were outlined in the 2016 RCFV report, while others were recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission after it completed a comprehensive review of Australia’s family law system. A final report of this review, called “Review of the Family Law System”, was tabled in federal parliament in April 2019 (see www.alrc.gov.au).

The most important change to the FL Act is the ban on personal cross-examination in family law cases where family violence is alleged and certain circumstances apply. For example, if there is a final family violence order in place between the parties, then an unrepresented party (who is the alleged perpetrator) cannot personally cross-examine the other party (who is the alleged victim). Cross-examination can only be done by a legal representative. If a party does not have legal representation, cross-examination is not permitted. This reform is in operation from September 2019.

Other proposed reforms include expanding the powers of state courts so they can vary or suspend parenting orders that are inconsistent with intervention orders. Another proposed change is to make breaching a FL Act injunction a criminal offence.