ALRC Begins 'Comprehensive' Family Law Review

Tuesday 3 October 2017 @ 11.26 a.m. | Legal Research

The Australian Law Reform Commission ('ALRC') has announced that it will undertake a comprehensive review of the family law system. The review began on 1 October 2017, and is led by Professor Helen Rhoades

Terms of Reference

The ALRC received the terms of reference on 27 September 2017 from Attorney-General George Brandis. These are:

  • Consideration of the fact that there has not been a comprehensive review of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ('the Act) since its commenced;
  • The diversity of contemporary family structures;
  • The importance of ensuring the Act meets the needs of contemporary families and individuals who use the family law system;
  • The importance of giving dignity and privacy to separating families;
  • The importance of public confidence in the family law system;
  • The desirability of encouraging the resolution of family disputes early on and in the least costly and harmful manner;
  • The importance of protecting the needs  of children in the context of family separation;
  • The pressures on courts which exercise jurisdiction in family law matters;
  • The jurisdictional overlap between the federal family law system and state and territory child protection systems and the desirability of ensuring that children’s matters arising from family separation be dealt with in the same proceedings;
  • The need for finality in family disputes and ensuring compliance with family law orders;
  • The beneficial engagement of appropriately skilled professionals in the family law system.

The scope of the reference is:

  • The family law system and other related matters;
  • Interactions between the Commonwealth family law system and other fields such as family law and child protection services from other state and territory domestic family systems, and child protection systems, including the ALRC Family Violence Report 114.

The ALRC will be consulting with relevant stakeholders such as family law, family relationship and social support services.

Government Statement

In a media release, Attorney-General and Senator George Brandis said:

“The review of the family law system will be broad and far reaching, focusing on key areas of importance to Australian families. These include ensuring the family law system prioritises the best interests of children, best addresses family violence and child abuse, and supports families, including those with complex needs to resolve their family law disputes quickly and safely while minimising the financial burden.”

Responses to the Review

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said:

‘None of these problems can afford to wait until the report's due date in 2019.’

President of the ALRC, Fiona McLeod said:

"The Law Council looks forward to contributing to this review, however we note that any significant recommendations for reform will not be able to be implemented without corresponding funding," she said in a statement."

Future Directions

The ALRC report is expected to be issued by 31 March 2019.

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Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), as published on Timebase LawOne.

James Elton-Pym, 'Family law review will consider whether court cases are too distressing for children,' (SBS News) 29 September 2017.

AAP, 'Family law review to start in October,' (SBS News) 28 September 2017.

Attorney-General of Australia, 'First comprehensive review of the family law act' (Media release), 27 September 2017.

Australian Law Reform Commission, 'Review of the family law system.' 

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