Separation, A 2014 report into Australian Family Law

5th December 2014

By Lisa Wagner

If you have separated or are thinking about separating and are wanting to know what is going to happen next and how long the process is going to take then keep reading as this article contains some very useful information.

The Attorney General’s Department has recently released an extensive report “Post- Separation Parenting, Property and Relationship Dynamics After Five Years” to enquire into the long-term impact of the 2006 Family Law Reforms.

In summary, the 2006 Family Law Reforms were designed with the main objectives of:

  • Strengthening family relationships;
  • Preventing parental separation, where possible;
  • Encouraging both parents to remain involved in children’s lives after separation;
  • Protecting children from violence and abuse; and
  • Supporting families to avoid court proceedings when making parenting arrangements after separation.

Encouragingly, the report found that:

  1. Most mothers and fathers describe their post-separation relationship with their former spouse in positive terms, i.e. either friendly or cooperative. Less positive relationships were more commonly described as distant rather than conflictual or fearful.

  2. The frequency of communication between the parents after separation tended to reduce over time however in the majority of families taking part in the survey, separated parents were talking to their ex-spouses about their children on average each week.

  3. The majority of parents reporting emotional abuse by the other parent had reduced significantly over the five year period however many still describe being the subject of humiliating insults, circulation of defamatory comments and to a lesser extent knowing of the other party’s whereabouts.

  4. There was a reduction over time in the safety concerns about the children when in the care of the other parent. The large majority of those who continued to hold safety concerns at the end of the five year period had reported their concerns to authorities (e.g. police) or other services. The presence of mental health issues or alcohol and/or substance abuse was considerable among the group where safety concerns remained an issue.

  5. The majority of parents who used services for information and advice believed that such services and advice had helped them settle their family dispute after separation. The proportion who considered the service they received as the most helpful and of the greatest benefit were those parents who used a family lawyer.

  6. The majority of parents had sorted out their parenting arrangements during this period with the two most common parenting arrangements being either the children living with their mother for the majority of nights or in a shared care arrangement. Shared care arrangements were more common in primary and early secondary school aged children. In 6 out of 10 families those care arrangements had changed during the five year period that the survey focussed on.

  7. About 45% of parents had resolved their property dispute within twelve (12) months of separation and another 25% within two (2) years of their separation. The remaining 30% who took longer than two (2) years to resolve their property dispute tended to have a higher level of assets and required additional time to work through all the issues.

  8. Payments of child support were, in the majority of cases, paid in full and on time. However a significant proportion of paying fathers reported some resentment because they had no say in how the child support money was being spent.

  9. Parents reported favourably about their children’s wellbeing after separating including their progress in learning, peer relationships and overall development.

Further, there did not seem to be a strong link between the type of post separation “care time” parenting arrangements and a child’s wellbeing.

However, it is to be noted that a minority of parents continued to report significant difficulties. These included experiencing ongoing family violence and abuse, maintaining safety concerns about children and/or continuing to experience a conflictual and fearful post-separation relationship with their former spouse. In concluding the report noted that professionals in the family law system overall play a constructive and coordinated role in untangling the serious predicament that separating families can face. People experiencing a separation are significantly benefited by engaging family law experts to assist them right from the start.

At Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers we strive to assist our clients through the separation and divorce process each and every day. If you are separating and want professional help and guidance at each critical stage then call me, Lisa Wagner of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers on 9437 0010 or email me on enquiries@familylawyersdw.com.au. We have Accredited Family Law Specialists who are experts in all areas of family law and are here to help you at this stressful time.

These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.

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