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The Georgicks of Virgil, with an English Translation and Notes Virgil, John Martyn Ipsi in defossis specubus secura sub alta Otia agunt terra, congestaque robora, Pierius says it is confecto in the Roman manuscript. And Tacitus also says the Germans used to make caves to defend them from the severity of winter, .

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As well as a thoroughgoing examination of their married life, petitioners faced the very real possibility that the judge might excuse their spouse's behaviour and refuse to grant the divorce. For example, a woman who sought to dissolve her marriage on the grounds of her husband's adultery might see her petition fail if the judge regarded her "nagging" or lack of interest in sex as justification for her husband's conduct Rhoades et al. Adding insult to injury, divorce trials were closely followed by the tabloid press, who made a "public sport of marital breakdown" Swain, , p.

This moralistic approach was designed to deter divorce applications and preserve the institution of marriage, even if this sometimes posed significant hardship for the partners. The burden in this respect was often borne by women, who tended to shoulder the responsibility for holding the marriage together James, By the early s, however, this view of married life was increasingly at odds with the shifting values of Australian society. Alongside rising numbers of married women working outside the home was the advent of the women's liberation movement Margarey, , which saw demands for free child care, paid maternity leave and family-friendly workplaces Sawer, The s also saw a growing rejection among the post-war generation of their parents' values and choices, and an increased emphasis on individualism and "personal satisfaction" Edgar, , p.

In this changing social climate, fault-based divorce began to look decidedly out of date. A second sign that reform was needed were the increasingly liberal interpretations of the fault-based legislation by divorce judges. In the case of Ainsworth v Ainsworth , for example, Justice Selby held that it was sufficient to make out the ground of cruelty if the husband's conduct had caused the wife to have a "reasonable apprehension of injury", effectively overruling the existing obligation to prove the respondent had intended to inflict harm [] 1 NSWLR 68, Similarly, in Colamaria , Justice Jenkyn decided that the legal requirement to show physical injury could be satisfied by evidence of a general deterioration in the wife's mental health [] 3 NSWLR These shifts provided another clear signal that the existing legislation was no longer performing its job.

A third important factor underlying the Family Law Act reforms, and particularly the establishment of the Act's child-centred model of custody decision-making, was a growing recognition of the relevance of social science expertise to the resolution of family disputes Enderby, Based on their experience and knowledge of the developmental research, which showed that ongoing parental conflict can be destructive of children's wellbeing Rutter, , these practitioners began to challenge the view embedded in the existing law that unhappy spouses should stay together for the sake of their children.

Together, these factors - the widening gap between the fault-based law and family practices, the increasing evidence of "creative" decision-making by the courts, and the growing calls by social science professionals for a more child-focused approach to custody decisions - helped to inform the development of the Family Law Act 's key reforms. The enduring legacy of these changes is manifest. Sustaining a decision-making framework shaped around children's developmental needs, on the other hand, has proved to be more difficult.


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Much has changed since the passage of the Family Law Act , both in Australian society and the Act itself. This includes significant amendments to Part VII in the s to extend its coverage to ex-nuptial children, a move that recognised the growing numbers of unmarried parents.

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Further reforms in the s added provisions dealing with family violence, reflecting a growing awareness of its prevalence and consequences for children Rhoades, , while shared parenting amendments in were designed to encourage more "cooperative parenting" between separated parents in the interests of children Ruddock, Given this level of reform activity, it is tempting to think that the present legislation reflects the current state of social practices in Australia when it comes to family life.

Yet there is much about Part VII and its approach to children's care arrangements that looks as though it was drafted some time ago. In this part of the chapter I want to explore two concerns in this regard: the Act's limited recognition of family diversity and the need once again for the law to focus on supporting children's development. Recent reports also highlight the considerable cultural diversity of families who use the family law system. Although there is a wide variation of practices within Indigenous communities, it is not uncommon for Aboriginal children to have multiple caregivers drawn from the wider family, while Torres Strait Islanders practise a form of customary adoption, in which children are "grown up" by relatives within kinship networks Family Law Council, a.

Along similar lines, the Family Law Council has noted the increasing number of new and emerging communities in Australia, including families from Africa and the Middle East, many of whom take a collectivist approach to child rearing Family Law Council, b. In addition to these changes, the past decade has seen a growing use of assisted reproductive technologies Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, and surrogacy arrangements Millbank, to form families, increasing the number of potential parents a child may have.

These various reviews indicate that for a large number of Australian children, their family includes carers who are not their biological or legal parents. Moreover, a considerable body of research evidence shows that children's understandings of family do not always mirror the assumptions embodied in the law. As Pryor and Rodgers noted, "we cannot make assumptions about who belongs to an individual child's family in his or her eyes" p.

The most recent policy review of Part VII took place in It resulted in a suite of amendments to Part VII, including a number of new legal principles and a new framework for deciding children's care arrangements Goode v Goode [] FamCA Although the changes require the courts to consider the relevant customary practices where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are concerned s 61F , the current definition of "parent" for the purposes of Part VII is limited to the child's biological or adoptive parents Tobin v Tobin FLC , [45] , and the Act assumes that children have two of these.

This approach to what we might call "legal parents" is reflected in particular in the first object of Part VII, which is to ensure children have the benefit of "both of their parents" having a meaningful involvement in their lives s 60B 1 a , and in the first primary best interests consideration, which requires the courts to consider the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with "both of the child's parents" s 60CC 2 a.

As this might suggest, the current provisions of Part VII have created something of a problem for the courts when a child's family does not conform to the model envisaged by the Act, a circumstance that is increasingly commonplace. According to the Act, even though an applicant may be someone on whom the child has depended for their care, the court is not required to consider "the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship" with that person.

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Given the evidence of family diversity described above, this narrow understanding of family life brings to mind the kinds of problems with the law that signalled the need for reform in the s, and suggests that, once again, the legislation has not kept pace with social reality.

A question that arises is how are the courts dealing with this limitation in practice? One of the consequences of the present limitations of the Act is that the judges of the family courts, much like their counterparts in the early s, have had to engage in some creative decision-making in order to meet the needs of children living in non-traditional families. In a series of recent cases involving applications by grandmothers, step-fathers, lesbian co-parents, and sisters and aunts, judges have carefully manoeuvred their way around the current legislative framework in an attempt to consider the substance of the provisions that apply to parents, if not their form, so that the children in question are not disadvantaged Chisholm, As the judicial officer in one such case explained:.

To exclude [the step-father] from those considerations that specifically relate to parents would in the circumstances be artificial and may have the potential to distort the decision making process leading to a decision that may not be in the child's best interests. A second area of recent critique suggests that the Act's historical focus on supporting children's development has been compromised by the complexity of the decision-making framework introduced in Similar criticisms were made by family relationship sector professionals, who voiced their frustration with the law's narrow understanding of children's needs Rhoades et al.

These concerns suggest that despite the similarity of issues that families present within each sector, and that many clients use more than one service Kaspiew et al. In light of the concerns raised by practitioners, a recent research project has been exploring the possibility of developing a new decision-making framework, one that is structurally simple, supportive of children's developmental needs and capable of application by the range of practitioners across the system's different dispute resolution sites. The methodology for this project, which is described in detail elsewhere Rhoades et al.

Stage 1 of the project employed a series of dispute vignettes case studies based on published judgments of the family courts and recorded interviews with 39 experienced practitioners to elicit information about their approach to deciding developmentally sound arrangements for the children in those scenarios. The analysis of their responses was then compared to the decision-making process in the judgments from which the vignettes were drawn, to identify the areas of commonality and divergence between the two the "comparative analysis". The comparative analysis revealed a number of similarities of practice.

In particular, it showed that many of the factors in Part VII that judges are required to consider - such as the child's views, age and cultural background, and the likely effect on the child of being separated from a parent or sibling - are likewise important considerations for family relationship professionals.

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However, the analysis also revealed some important differences that suggest the need to re-think certain elements of the current legislative framework. Three issues in particular are worthy of note. One issue concerns the process of decision-making itself. The central difference here was the absence from the responses of the family relationships sector practitioners of anything that resembled the provisions in Part VII that require decision-makers to consider particular forms of care arrangement.

Not surprisingly, it also involved a more organic and iterative method than the highly structured pathway contained in the legislation. Instead of testing presumptions about children's best interests, the process used by participants centred on the performance of three assessment tasks: identification of the children's needs, an assessment of the risks and protective factors affecting the children's safety and wellbeing, and an assessment of each person's capacity to support the children's development and protect them from harm.

A second notable distinction involves the way in which the decision-making exercise was framed. Like the legislation, family relationships sector practitioners were concerned to ensure the child's safety. Part VII currently couples this objective with a requirement to consider the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents s 60CC 2 a.

In contrast, the main concern for family relationship professionals alongside their focus on safety was to ensure the child's healthy development would be supported, a principle that is not currently found in Part VII of the Act. The third important feature of the comparative analysis involved different understandings of harm to children. The present protective provision in Part VII is concerned with safeguarding children from harm caused by "being subjected to or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence" s 60CC 2 b.

According to Richard Chisholm , this formulation of harm has the potential to see decision-makers overlook the effects on children of other damaging behaviours, such as parental conflict and parental indifference. This concern was supported by the responses of family relationship professionals in our study, whose assessments of risk were more broadly concerned with harm to the child's future development.


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This included concern for children's moral development and identity formation, as well as their needs for security and stability. In light of this broader focus, practitioners identified a wider range of potential sources of harm to children, including exposure to destructive parental conflict, a factor that is missing from Part VII. In , the Whitlam Government responded to the growing evidence that the law governing divorce was out of step with changing social practices and the emerging child development research by enacting the Family Law Act.

Almost four decades later, Part VII of this Act continues to provide the relevant legal framework for deciding children's care arrangements when their carers are in conflict. But once again there are indications that the law has failed to keep pace with shifts in Australian society, and that the courts have had to engage in some liberal interpretative practices to circumvent the legislative limitations and ensure just outcomes for children. And there is also evidence of a renewed need to harmonise the law with the practices and understandings of family relationship professionals.

The challenge for current policy-makers is for them to be brave enough to accommodate these changes. Google Tag Manager. Children, families and the law: A view of the past with an eye to the future. Organization The two-week conference can be divided into three parts: Week 1 , which reviews the progress made by participating States with respect to their human dimension commitments; Week 2 , which provides a forum for participating States, OSCE institutions and field missions, other international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to discuss important thematic issues in a more forward-looking manner; and so-called side events , which are small meetings organized throughout the conference by any interested party on a particular topic.

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Stressing the importance of bringing governmental and non-governmental actors together, Ambassador Strohal said that civil society has an important function both in combating human rights violations and as a voice in the debate on such issues. One should not overlook the energy with which civil society in our region pursues the cancerous weaknesses of our societies, reminding governmental bodies and institutions of their duties to ensure equality and do everything to stem new tides of chauvinism and xenophobia and eventually to eradicate these forms of discrimination.

They go to the heart of how our societies function, addressing how we, as human beings, relate to one another in our actions and perceptions," said Ambassador Strohal. The ODIHR Director also drew attention to many of the traditional subjects of concern in the OSCE's human dimension, calling on countries to implement ODIHR recommendations for meeting international standards for democratic elections and calling for participating States to make the eradication of torture a priority. If you choose to view an international money transfer the following information will display: From account: the account that the payment was made from.

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