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Focus on Safety – Changes in Family Law

As mentioned in a pervious article, the Family Law Act changed on 6 May 2024; and one of the changes is a variation in language in how the Courts are to determine the best interests of children. Today I am looking in particular at the focus on safety in the changes to the Act.

Section 60CC – both before the changes commenced and now – sets out what a Court must consider in determining what is in a child’s best interests for the ongoing parenting arrangements.

The new section 60CC has three significant changes in language which are directed at safety.

First, the new section requires the Court to consider ‘what arrangements would promote the safety’ of a child and each person who has care of a child. It is possible that the use of the word ‘promote’ will create a more overall focus on whether the whole of the arrangements protect a child.

Secondly, section 60CC now sets out that the Court must consider what arrangements promote the safety of a child including safety from being subjected to, or exposed to family violence, abuse, neglect or ‘other harm’. Family violence, abuse and neglect were already defined in the Family Law Act – and their meaning has been subject to previous decisions of the Court. The use of the words ‘other harm’ may broaden what risk issues the Court can take into account in determining the safety of a child.

Finally, under section 60CC the Court now must consider how the arrangements proposed promote the safety of ‘each person who has care of the child’. The previous version only required the Court to consider the risk to another person indirectly – through the effect of any such risk on a child.

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