NICOLA Roxon has flagged further changes to the Family Law Act to improve the court system’s response to family violence, amid calls for greater clarification on how and when family violence should be relevant to disputes.

The Attorney-General yesterday declared there was “more to do” in reforming the system to provide better support for victims, following a fresh definition of family violence that came into effect last month.

Ms Roxon said the government was working on a full response to two Australian Law Reform Commission reports on family violence, as former Family Law Council chairman Patrick Parkinson criticised the current legislation for overemphasising previous instances of violence instead of focusing on immediate safety concerns.

“It isn’t good enough that the onus is put on traumatised individuals to navigate services and justice systems, multiple agencies and multiple courts,” Ms Roxon said in an address to an Australian Institute of Family Studies conference in Melbourne.”Victims of violence should not have to relive their stories over and over again.

“Significant work continues to improve collaboration between federal and state and territory organisations and governments to provide more integrated, responsive support for families experiencing violence.

“While we have done a lot, there is still more to do.”

Professor Parkinson, who is president of the International Society of Family Law and who led a review that prompted the Howard government’s reforms emphasising the importance of shared parenting, said there was a tendency to treat all violence in family situations as the same. “The history of violence is relevant but I don’t think in our legislation we’ve quite got there in terms of clarity about why it’s relevant and what it’s relevant to.”

Professor Parkinson said there was a need to better “triage” cases coming into the family court system, prioritising those with the greatest risks. “We have to concentrate our resources and our attention on the parents and children who are at most risk, which means … focusing on a smaller number where there are current safety concerns,” he said. “The problem we have is that if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.”

ALRC president Rosalind Croucher said the difficult interaction between federal and state laws remained a key challenge. “There are inherent tensions between the jurisdictions,” she told The Australian. “You have got states and territories with abilities to make family violence orders and you’ve got family court dealing with the long-term resolution of property and who the kids are going to live with.”

Professor Parkinson called for changes to ease the demand for parental responsibility in cases where the parents “have never been a family” and may not have lived together or been married.

“We’re making families out of a one-night stand now and saying ‘parenthood is indissoluble and you’re paying until 18’,” he said. “Sometimes we try too hard to keep families together, try too hard in the child protection system, try too hard in the family law system. We create families … where none previously existed.”

Professor Parkinson has criticised the 2006 shared parenting responsibility amendment for failing to give clear signals and enough guidance to judges on when shared parenting is appropriate and when it is not.

Comment from MRA:

It appears the Labor party have not yet finished with the ‘roll-back’  of the shared parenting changes introduced in 2006.

Prof Parkinson’s comments are worrying….

”Professor Parkinson called for changes to ease the demand for parental responsibility in cases where the parents “have never been a family” and may not have lived together or been married.”

The parents may never have been ‘a family’, but for many men that changes when they become a father. They do not have to be in ‘a family’ to be a parent to their child. Many men, in our experience ‘step up “ to the joys and responsibilities of parenthood when their child is born. A loving, caring relationship usually develops providing the mother  encourages good contact between the father and baby to strengthen the bonds between them. They don’t have to love the mother or have had a long term relationship with her to be a great father. Parkinson is confusing the two issues. Ed.