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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.

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To support the take-up of evidence, ANROWS offers a range of resources developed from research to support practitioners and policy-makers in delivering evidence-based interventions.


4AP.2

Compliance with and enforcement of family law parenting orders

Project length
2+ years

In Australia and overseas, controversy about enforcement of family law parenting orders has been longstanding.


As the evidence base on families that use the system has expanded, greater focus has been placed on the complex dynamics that affect the small minority of families who use courts to make parenting orders.

This project will create a clearer evidence base to understand why people fail to comply with parenting orders.

Research aim/s

There is a need for empirical research to develop a greater understanding of the enforcement regime in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and the factors that do or do not support compliance with parenting orders. Should reform of the enforcement regime be implemented, this project would also provide baseline evidence against which the impact of any reforms could be measured.

This project will use mixed method research aimed at examining compliance with parenting orders and the operation of the enforcement regime. To address these research aims, the proposed research is intended to generate empirical evidence to address the following key issues:

  • the factors associated with non-compliance with parenting orders
  • the circumstances in which the contravention regime is applied and the patterns in court outcomes when it is applied
  • the extent to which penalties are effective at reducing non-compliance and whether, where there are ongoing concerns about family violence, they deter contraventions or inhibit parties in seeking court protection.

Methods

The project involves the following methods:

  1. Contravention matter court file analysis:
    The collection and analysis of data from a sample of court files involving contravention applications in selected registries of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
  2. Online survey of separated parents with parenting orders:
    The collection and analysis of data about parents’ views and experiences through an online survey of separated parents who have obtained parentings orders (either by judicial determination or by consent) in the five years preceding the survey.
  3. Online survey of professionals and interviews with judicial officers:
    The collection and analysis of data from the range of family law system professionals to assess the influence of professional practices and examine systemic and legislative factors that influence the operation of the enforcement regime.
  4. Analysis of international approaches:
    A desktop review of enforcement approaches in three international jurisdictions to consider the legislative and systemic approaches to enforcement and how professional practices do or do not support effective implementation of these approaches.

 

Significance

There is no recent Australian research on contravention applications and the operation of the enforcement regime in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (FLA). The legislative context for making parenting orders has also changed significantly over the past 15 years, with the implementation of the 2006 shared parenting reforms and the 2012 family violence amendments to the FLA. In its recent review of the Australian family law system, the Australian Law Reform Commission documented a range of persistent concerns about compliance with parenting orders in general, and the operation of the legislative framework where contravention occurs in particular (ALRC, 2019). This project will address the gap in the evidence base by supporting greater understanding of the enforcement regime and the factors that do or do not support compliance with parenting orders. As noted above, should reform of the enforcement regime be implemented, this project would also provide baseline evidence against which the impact of any reforms could be measured.


Researchers

Project lead

Dr Rae Kaspiew, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Research team

Dr Rachel Carson, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Dr Lixia Qu, Australian Institute of Family Studies

John De Maio, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Dr Briony Horsfall, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Emily Stevens, Australian Institute of Family Studies

Professor Helen Rhoades, consultant

Research partners

The AIFS team will engage in stakeholder consultation throughout the project and, in particular, at each key phase. Stakeholders include Commonwealth and jurisdictional representatives from government departments, courts and support agencies.

Stakeholders to be consulted during the project include


  • Services Australia – Child Support
  • Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department
  • Family Court of Australia
  • Family Court of Western Australia
  • Federal Circuit Court of Australia
  • Family Law Pathways Networks
  • Family Law Practitioners Association
  • Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia
  • Family Relationships Services Australia
  • National Association of Community Legal Centres
  • National Legal Aid
  • post-order support program providers (including parenting order programs)
  • organisations and individuals that provide family dispute resolution
  • state and territory community legal centres
  • state and territory domestic and family violence services and peak bodies
  • state and territory law societies
  • Women’s Legal Services Australia
  • Children’s Commissioners – national, state and territory.

See also

Media release

National research organisations join forces to investigate patterns of intimate partner homicide and breaches of parenting orders

Find out more

Budget

$977,493 (excl. GST)

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