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Family law amendments and family violence: has parliament finally got it right?


17 February 2012

Professor Nicholas Bala will kick of the Distinguished Speakers Program on Wednesday 22 February
Professor Nicholas Bala will kick of the Distinguished Speakers Program on Wednesday 22 February

A leading international expert will shed new light on the contentious issue of post-separation parenting legislation when Sydney Law School's Distinguished Speakers Program kicks off for 2012 this Wednesday.

Professor Nicholas Bala of Queens University, Ontario, Canada - who is a leading expert on issues related to children, youth and families in the justice system - will deliver the first lecture in the series, entitled '2011 family law amendments and family violence: has parliament finally got it right?'

Australia's post-separation parenting legislation is among the most complex and frequently amended laws of its kind in the world.

The 2006 reforms had significant positive effects, encouraging dispute resolution outside the courts. The 2011 amendments aimed to address some problems created by the 2006 reforms by dealing more effectively with family violence and ensuring that shared parental care is not used inappropriately. The amendments broaden the definition of family violence and give priority to a child's safety over maintaining a relationship with both parents.

Despite its length and detail, Professor Bala believes the 2011 law does not give clear guidance for making complex decisions, often in a context of factual uncertainty and difficulty in predicting the future. All family justice professionals, including judges, must understand the risks posed by family violence, as well as the need for differentiated approaches to parenting plans when it is alleged, he claims.

Professor Bala will argue that while safety of children must be a priority, professionals must make individualised assessments that consider the '5Ps of family violence'. They must also take account of the stage of the proceedings and the resources available to ensure safety, and address the challenge of false or exaggerated allegations of family violence, as well as of false denials by perpetrators and false recantations by victims.

Effective responses to family violence and other parenting issues depend more on public and professional education, resources, professional practices and research than on legislation. With this considered, Professor Bala believes it is important to recognise both the value of a good legislative framework for family violence cases and its limitations.


Event Details

What: Sydney Law School Distinguished Speakers Program 2012: Professor Nicholas Bala
When: 6-7pm, Wednesday 22 February 2012. Registration at 5.30pm
Where: Sydney Law School Foyer, Eastern Ave, The University of Sydney
Cost: Full fee $25, Sydney Law School alumni $20, University of Sydney students $10. Tickets are available online only and must be pre-purchased at sydney.edu.au/law/dsp
Contact: 02 9351 0238 or law.events@sydney.edu.au

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Media contact: Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809, katie.szittner@sydney.edu.au