Family law is concerned with most legal matters arising out of separation and divorce including custody and care of children. Regardless of whether you are married or in a de facto relationship, the Family Law Act is relevant to resolving any disagreements you and your former partner may have about your children, including who they will live with.
In 2006 and 2007 the Howard government introduced changes to the Family Law Act requiring separating parents to engage in family dispute resolution or mediation prior to any dispute reaching court. The court now requires a certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner before any case concerning children can proceed.
There are some exceptions to this requirement where:
- your matter is urgent;
- there is a history or current risk of family violence or child abuse;
- you are applying for consent orders;
- you are responding to an application;
- a party is unable to participate effectively (eg. due to incapacity or geographic location); or
- a party has shown a serious disregard for a court order made in the last 12 months.
When applying to the court for an exeception you will be required to provide information demonstrating how that exception applies to you. If your exception relates to a family violence or child abuse matter you need to be able to satisfy the court there is a genuine risk to you or your children. You can contact the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 to get information and advice on your options and help accessing the services available to you. If you are concerned about your safety at court you should advise the court officer.
If you and your former partner are able to negotiate an informal agreement about the parenting of your children you are not required to attend mediation. There is no requirement for parents to have formal court orders outlining the care arrangements for their children however, it is important to be aware an informal agreement is not a binding agreement and neither parent can enforce the other to keep to it.
In 2013 there were a number of amendments made to the family law guidelines, including who is eligible to apply for Legal Aid and changes to legal representation for children. Please refer the Victorian Legal Aid website for further information.
The Victorian Legal Aid website also has a number of useful tip sheets and quick reference guides on a range of matters to do with family law, including advice on how to represent yourself in court if you’re unable to afford a lawyer. These resources are available in multiple languages and are all free to download.
For information about Family Dispute Resolution, click here.
For information on the Family Law Court, click here.
For information on family violence, click here.