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AIFS survey on parenting orders looks at compliance and enforcement

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is researching how family law parenting orders work in practice.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS) has commissioned AIFS to examine:

  • whether parents follow parenting orders
  • the factors associated with non-compliance with parenting orders
  • the features of cases that go to court when non-compliance occurs
  • patterns in court outcomes for these cases
  • whether penalties are effective in reducing non-compliance
  • whether, when there are concerns about family violence, they deter contraventions or inhibit parties in seeking court protection.

Parents or carers with parenting orders are invited to participate in the survey if their orders have been made by the family courts in the past five years.

Most parenting arrangements are reached by agreement between parents. However, some families seek court intervention whilst making parenting orders. Often, these families are affected by complex dynamics, including family violence.

The difficulties associated with parenting order enforcement have been acknowledged in various inquiries, including through a parliamentary committee and through the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).

The ALRC inquiry noted significant dissatisfaction with parenting order enforcement. Recommendations supporting compliance of parenting orders were made. Many inquiry submitters expressed frustration with years of protracted litigation in seeking parenting order enforcement, thereby creating ongoing stress and contributing to conflict between parties. 1

These findings have prompted the introduction of a National Contravention List, to be introduced on 1 September 2021 to the newly established Federal Circuit and Family Court. It aims to address the expectation that all parties will comply with orders of the court.

The court has conveyed a clear intention to take alleged breaches of court orders seriously and quickly under the list, and its key objectives are:  

  • to efficiently deal with applications on a national basis in a timely, cost effective and safe way for all litigants
  • to ensure compliance with court orders by all parties
  • to impose appropriate penalties or sanctions where a contravention has been proved and where a party has failed to demonstrate they had a reasonable excuse for non-compliance with court orders
  • to proactively facilitate the resolution of underlying issues in disputes that lead to the filing of such applications
  • to triage appropriate matters to dispute resolution
  • to be responsive to a party’s wishes to resolve matters without recourse to additional litigation.2

Footnotes
1 Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Law for the Future – an Inquiry into the Family Law System (ALRC Report 135, March 2019) 107, 339 <halrc.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/alrc_report_135_final_report_web-min_12_optimized_1-1.pdf>.
2 familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/reports-and-publications/media-releases/2021/mr060821.

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