Performance measure 3.2: Administration of family law and marriage legislation and policy frameworks
The family and marriage law frameworks are effectively administered and reformed to improve outcomes for families, including in relation to separation, family violence, abuse of older people, surrogacy, parentage and child welfare.
This performance measure was achieved.
3.2.1 Qualitative analysis shows that policy is developed and government initiatives are implemented to improve the operation of the family law system, including to enhance the safety of people using the system
3.2.2 Progress of department-led initiatives outlined in the Implementation Plan supporting the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians
3.2.3 100% of payments to Family Law Service providers under the Family Relationships Services Program are made in accordance with milestones in funding agreements (subject to appropriate availability)
3.2.4 Stakeholder and client satisfaction greater than 80% in relation to:
- Portfolio Budget Statements 2020–21, Outcome 1, Program 1.1, page 30 and Program 1.5, page 36
- Corporate Plan 2020–24, page 29
3.2.1 This year, we provided policy advice to government and implemented government decisions to improve the family law system and enhance people’s safety through the:
- development and provision of policy advice to government on family law reform initiatives
- implementation of government initiatives to improve the operation of the family law system
- procurement of independent evaluations or reviews of family law reform measures to determine the effect of policies and initiatives on the operation of the family law system.
We have assessed achievement against this target using a 3-step process of:
- a quantitative assessment of the number of work products in the policy development and implementation process (such as ministerial submissions and consultation papers) that supported government decisions and implementation of initiatives designed to improve the operation of the family law system
- an evaluation of the status of implementation of family law reform initiatives announced by the government
- a review of findings of independent evaluations, commissioned by the department, to assess the effectiveness of identified pilot programs or reform projects.
Taken together, these processes demonstrate how we successfully achieved the target.
In 2020–21, we provided 48 ministerial submissions to portfolio ministers for decision that analysed and proposed reforms to the operation of the family law system. The government made decisions that led to achieving the outcomes listed below.
Status of family law reforms
The government responded to the Australian Law Reform Commission report, Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System. The response provided the government’s views, supported by analysis and advice from the department, on reforms to family law and the operation of the family law system. The response outlined the next steps being taken by government.
The government approved the making of legislative amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 that promote an accessible and safe environment for families within the family law system:
- The Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Act 2020 supports implementation of a new approach, The Lighthouse project, to identify and manage safety risks in the family law courts.
- The Family Law Amendment (Western Australia De Facto Superannuation Splitting and Bankruptcy) Act 2020 allows de facto couples in Western Australia to split their superannuation as part of family law property proceedings, as is the case in other jurisdictions. It also extends federal bankruptcy jurisdiction to the Family Court of Western Australia to allow bankruptcy and family law matters of de facto couples to be heard concurrently in a single court, saving time, money and effort.
- The Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021 was introduced into Parliament on 24 March 2021, to provide stronger protections for victims of family violence in the family law system.
- Exposure draft legislation to improve the visibility of superannuation assets in family law proceedings was released and received supportive submissions from stakeholders.
We published 2 consultation papers: Establishment of an Accreditation Scheme for Children’s Contact Services and A New Decision-Making Framework for Property Matters in Family Law. We received and are analysing feedback to advise government.
Upon advice from the department, the government approved the funding of family law policy initiatives announced in the 2021–22 Budget, which we are now implementing. These include:
- investment in Children’s Contact Services, which will provide additional funding from 2021–22 to increase the capacity of the 64 existing services and establish 20 new services in 2022–23
- extension of 2 well-received family law property pilots under the Women’s Economic Security Statement until June 2023, which will continue assistance to separating couples with small property pools, helping them achieve affordable, timely property settlements. The extension also provides service continuity until the outcome of the independent evaluations of the pilots due in April 2022
- additional ongoing funding for frontline family violence legal and social support services, including funding for Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships to increase the accessibility of legal and mental health support services to women experiencing family violence
- further investment in the Family Advocacy and Support Service with funding provided over 3 years to maintain, expand and enhance the service
- additional funding for the Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme, which ensures that victims of family violence are not directly cross-examined by their perpetrators in family law matters.
We published the Property and Financial Agreements and Consent Orders – What You Need to Know guide, which is a practical resource to assist separating couples prepare financial agreements and consent orders, and a useful tool for family law and justice sector professionals.
Findings of family law evaluations and reviews
In 2020–21, the department commissioned 2 evaluations related to the operation of the family law system that are ongoing:
- Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme review, due to be completed in the second half of 2021.
- Evaluation of the pilot of co-location of child protection and policing officials at family law court locations, due to be completed in early 2022.
We received evaluation reports on 2 family law reform initiatives, which are under review and will be the subject of advice to government in 2021–22:
- The evaluation of the Legally Assisted and Culturally Appropriate Family Dispute Resolution pilot by the Australian National University.
- The evaluation of the Enhanced Exercise of Family Law Jurisdiction in the Northern Territory Local Court pilot by Inside Policy.
3.2.2 We have progressed the department’s initiatives outlined in the Implementation Plan for the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians 2019–23, which is available on the department’s website. An independent evaluation of the Elder Abuse Service Trials program is underway and is expected to conclude on 31 August 2021. We have collected qualitative data through the Department of Social Services Data Exchange and quantitative data such as client surveys and case studies directly from each of the Elder Abuse Service Trial providers to assess the effectiveness of the program. Assessment concluded that the deliverables and activities were being undertaken in accordance with grant agreements.
The National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study has been finalised and has progressed to the Attorney-General for review.
On 27 July 2020, the Meeting of Attorneys-General agreed in principle to the broad policy design for the National Register of Enduring Powers of Attorney. On 31 March 2021, it was agreed to consult further to present a progress update by the end of 2021.
3.2.3 All payments to family law service providers under the Family Relationship Services Program were made in accordance with milestones scheduled in 235 grant agreements, which are administered by the Department of Social Services Community Grants Hub. Timely payments totalling $179 million enabled continuity of services to improve the wellbeing of families, particularly families with children, at risk of separating or who have separated.
3.2.4 In response to questions related to this target in the department’s stakeholder survey, 89% of respondents rated our effectiveness positively and 85% rated our efficiency positively. A detailed explanation of the stakeholder survey methodology and results is at Appendix 2: Methodologies.
These results indicate that we generally provide high-quality, timely, consistent and effective advice on the administration of Australia’s family law and marriage legislation and policy frameworks. A contributing factor to this success is the maintenance of strong stakeholder relationships. While qualitative feedback suggested some respondents found staff turnover within the department disruptive to relationships, it was also noted that the department provided consistent and constructive advice. The qualitative feedback indicated there were occasions when respondents considered the department did not provide sufficient time for consideration and consultation ahead of a deadline or meeting. The need to consult across and beyond government on an extensive range of complex issues, as well as needing to capitalise on key meetings and forums, can affect the time available for consultation and the perceived timeliness of the department’s engagement on occasions.