Separated parents and the family law system: what does the evidence say?

The findings from a large research program conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies tells many stories. One of the main ones is a good news story: most couples separate amicably, work parenting and property out for themselves and maintain good relationships with the other parent and their children after separation. This applies to more than 70% of separated parents.

The families who use the family law system are troubled. They are much more likely to have a history of family violence, concerns for their own or their children’s safety as a result of ongoing contact with the other parent, mental ill health, substance abuse, gambling, problematic social media or pornography use.

There are several problem areas. One is screening, risk assessment and risk management. This occurs in an inconsistent and piecemeal way across the system and is recognised by family law system professionals. Asked if they thought the family law system screened adequately for family violence and child safety concerns, 46% disagreed.

About 30% of parents who used FDR, lawyers and courts in 2014 indicated that they had not been asked about family violence and safety concerns. Considering the prevalence of risk factors among such parents these findings point to a need for significant improvement.


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