Issues Paper 12 Family Law Act Reform: the potential for screening and risk assessment for family violence




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НазваниеIssues Paper 12 Family Law Act Reform: the potential for screening and risk assessment for family violence
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Issues Paper 12

Family Law Act Reform: the potential for
screening and risk assessment for family violence

Rochelle Braaf
Clare Sneddon


Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse



On 1 July 2006 the Australian Family Law Act 1975 underwent major reforms with the introduction of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. The reforms have serious implications for adult and child victims of family violence. Among the safeguards for victims accompanying the changes to the Act is the introduction of family violence screening and risk assessment processes, designed to identify victims, to consider future risk of harm (e.g. for re-assault or homicide) and to manage and respond to that risk. This paper examines the strengths, weaknesses and good practices of family violence screening and risk assessment approaches, drawing on an exploration of their more traditional applications in health and criminal justice settings. Consideration is given to how these approaches might be employed at multiple points in family law proceedings.

The paper is divided into four sections under the headings: Introducing screening and risk assessment for family violence to family law proceedings; Australian family law reforms; Screening and risk assessment for family violence; and Opportunities for screening and risk assessment in family law proceedings.

Introducing screening and risk assessment for family violence to family law proceedings


On 1 July 2006 major reforms were introduced to Australian family law by the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. The legislation carries with it strong messages about shared parenting after separation. A key feature is the shift towards consideration of ‘equal time’ or ‘substantial and significant time’ for both parents, where shared parental responsibility is considered (Family Law Act 1975 section 65 DAA). The changes also carry an emphasis on dispute resolution between separating parties before or instead of attending court in family law cases.

While many see this shift as positive, it has caused concern amongst service providers, advocates and legal practitioners who seek to ensure that changed procedures do not endanger or disadvantage women and children experiencing family violence. The Federal Government’s Family Law Violence Strategy (Attorney General’s Department 2006a), which is specifically focussed on family violence issues for family law matters, acknowledges the need to introduce screening and risk assessment for violence in family law proceedings. The document recognises that separating from a partner can place women and their children at risk of continuing or significantly elevated levels of family violence (Williams & Barry Houghton 2004; Brown 2003a; Jaffe, Lemon & Poisson 2003; Wilson 2002; Hume 2003; Strang 1996). Embedding screening and risk assessment processes in family law proceedings is a way to highlight the existence or threat of violence at a time when victims are particularly vulnerable. Professionals within the family law system can then take steps to try to ensure their clients’ safety and ultimately achieve safe outcomes from such proceedings.

This paper explores how screening and risk assessment for family violence could be applied to family law proceedings to provide support, assistance and protection for victims, as well as appropriate sanctions and treatment for perpetrators. This paper reviews literature and research on screening and risk assessment where these practices have been used in health and criminal justice settings to identify and address family violence. The paper considers the strengths and limitations of the tools in those contexts, their capacity to form the basis of a risk management approach and examples of good practice.

A transition phase has been established for implementing screening and risk assessment until 30 June 2009, during which time training, protocols and standards will be developed. Many domestic violence services, children’s and women’s advocacy groups, as well as researchers and agencies, are actively engaged in research and discussion about the use of these practices in the Australian family law context. The paper seeks to highlight some key issues elicited from that research and discussion, and to invite continuing debate as the family law reforms are implemented and refined.

The paper refers to the Family Law Act 1975 where the 2006 reforms have come into effect. Where the reforms have not yet come into effect, the paper refers to the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006.
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