The new Family Law Act will come into force in March 2013. For the first time, family lawyers, mediators and other professionals working with a party in a family law dispute will have a duty to assess whether family violence is present, and, if so, the impact that the violence may have on the safety of a family member or on a party’s ability to negotiate a fair settlement. In addition, family violence has been defined expansively to include psychological, emotional and sexual abuse as well as physical violence, and in the case of a child can include exposure to family violence even though the violence is not directed at the child. The Family Law Act also requires that the parties, their lawyers and the courts assess and consider the impact that any family violence might have on a child’s best interests when making decisions about guardianship, parenting arrangements or contact with a child.
The new Family Law Act contains many legislative changes that are intended to raise awareness regarding violence within families, and to provide the necessary means to protect those experiencing violence, adults and children alike.