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Safer Family Law Campaign


allied to the national Mayday! rally May 3 and petition

OUR GOALS

Safer Family Law Campaign (SFLC) is a national campaign dedicated to giving all Australian children and parents the fundamental human right: to be safe.

We are a group of concerned Australian self-help groups, parents, legal experts, academics, family violence workers, men's anti-violence groups, health professionals, journalists, authors, counselors and members of the public from all over this country who are seeing consistent failures in the current Australian family law system to protect children.

Safer Family Law Campaign seeks changes to the Family Law Act and FCA and other Australian court practice, including court-ordered child custody dispute resolution processes, where:

Primary considerations
  • the term `the best interests of the child' is replaced with "the measurable and demonstrative benefit of the child, taking into account a wide range of considerations including status quo, established primary care-giver, family and friendship connections, schooling, special needs and secure and loving care";
  • primary focus on safe outcomes for children takes precedence over 'time spent' principles, especially in cases where family violence (FV) and/or child abuse is raised; and such matters being raised must be investigated;


  • Investigating family violence and child abuse
  • family (including children) or contributing professionals' concerns suggesting FV and child abuse require that all evidence held by any governmental, police, law, medical and/or other agencies pertaining to the parties' and children's well-being must be sought out and included for review by this new special unit; and

  • that these records be connected on central police and court systems at local, state and federal levels, and;

  • a new, discrete unit is formed within the family law system to carefully manage investigation of such cases;

  • there is recognition that violence to a parent is also abusive to the child of that parent;

  • if, on the balance of probabilities, FV/abuse patterns are found to exist, or to be likely to exist, then any contact orders/agreements must detail how childrens safety is to be supported; and if such FV/abuse patterns are considered on expert opinion to be likely to strongly endanger children's physical security or psychological health, then even occasional contact with the offending parent or parents may be disallowed as unsafe, and;
  • in such cases the primary focus on safe outcomes for children must include plans for recovery from such trauma in parenting agreements or orders, and merely the passage of time should not be taken to suggest such FV/abuse patterns will be reduced or stop causing harm to the child, and;
  • no order for court costs or court punishment such as the reduction in custodial care orders of a child shall be made against a parent who raises concerns about family violence or child abuse, even if the evidence presented to the Court at that time fails to satisfy the Standard of Proof required by that Court. i.e. a balance of probabilities. Clear guidance is needed for Judges regarding the evidence which would satisfy a finding of proven. e.g. previous AVOs, criminal records of violence, mental health findings, police interventions in FV, investigations by Child Protection authorities or temporary refuge sought by assaulted parent and children, (as reports indicate there is no uniformity of decision-making or standard of practice applied countrywide regarding the finding of proven or unproven in such matters);


  • The child's voice
  • all children who have speech (or sign language or writing if old enough but speech impaired) involved in family law disputes are consulted (without parental interference) by specialist child counselors/psychologists, during a relaxed setting such as art play therapy, as to their own feelings and wishes regarding future residence and parent contact decisions; and that each child's opinion is tape recorded, transcribed and taken into account in any court decision; and that such questions must be designed so as to not be leading, or fail the test of evidence;


  • A family's right to medical care of choice
  • concerned parties must at all times be free to seek counseling and medical help for themselves and their families, including mental health care, from professionals of their own choice as well as those suggested by the Family Court of Australia, and they must be free to nominate the gender of any health professionals who deal with themselves or their children either privately or in the family law system. Evidence from such personally-chosen experts must be admissible evidence alongside any offered by other experts;


  • Training
  • all professionals responding to family separation in the Australian legal system including mental health professionals, mediators, judges and legal experts in the field advising/representing clients, must receive continuing, accredited training in FV and child abuse. This should include past and recent research findings, contemporary legal definitions and best practice recovery;


  • Review
  • checks and balances are put in place to review all court-registered child custody and contact orders remain safe over time; and


  • Freedom of movement
  • that principal care-givers should have first right of choice as to their place of residence, especially where family or special support, improved employment prospects and/or family violence and/or child abuse are factors; and that where residence is shared 50/50, then weight should be given to the support structures beyond employment offered by different locations, and to the equal rights of each parent to freedom of movement, and the option of the child travelling between parental homes within Australia should also be considered; and


  • Freedom of speech
  • that 'blanket secrecy' laws be altered to allow more free speech and media and academic review regarding the Family Law Act, the Australian court system dealing with family law and police, DHS and DOCS practice and culture regarding care and custody of children.

IN MEMORIUM OF 22 CHILDREN WHOSE LIVES HAVE BEEN LOST IN FAMILY DISPUTES SINCE 1996

  • 1996 - January 25: Peter May shot and killed his three children, Lisa eleven, Andrew eight, and Natalie seven during a contact visit. On the same day, he also killed his wife and her parents. May's history of domestic violence was commonly known and reported,
  • 1998 - October 23: After Ronald Jonkers lost custody of Aaron DeBaugy 5, Ashlee seventeen months and David seven, he poisoned them by carbon monoxide in their car on a contact visit in Perth,
  • 1999 - August: WA four young children were gassed along with their father Mark Heath after a family court dispute,
  • 2000 - Rhonda Bartley was shot dead by her ex-partner in Berri while attending a court ordered contact handover of their baby daughter,
  • 2001 - September: Mikaylah Green eleven weeks, Taylah Pringle eleven months and Jackson Merrott six, were smothered by their father on a contact visit in Sydney,
  • 2002 - Ana Hardwick 35 is strangled by her former partner after the family court granted her custody of their eleven and eight year old children,
  • 2002 - Kieren and Jordyn Rigg, 7 and 9, were killed in a murder suicide after the family court awarded contact to be supervised by the father's partner
  • 2004 - April 26: Jessie Dalton nineteen months and Patrick Dalton thirteen weeks were smothered by their separated father Jayson Dalton after a family court order to him to return the infants to their mother Dionne,
  • 2005 - 4th September: Robert Farquharson killed his sons Jai ten, Tyler seven, and Bailey two, by driving them into a dam in Winchelsea, south-west of Melbourne on Fathers' Day contact visit,
  • 2008 - May 9: The body of three year old Imran Zilic, was found after his father allegedly threw him down a mine on an access visit,
  • 2008 - January 3: Christopher McEwen allegedly raped and then killed his daughter Rhiannon McEwen on Bribie Island on New Years Eve. The matter of the children's residency was before the Family Court in 2004 where the father was given residency of all three children. It is not known to this writer if it was by consent. However, this father was cleared by a psychiatrist to leave a Brisbane hospital's mental health unit just nine days before he allegedly raped and murdered his ten-year-old daughter. Queensland Health did not report the man - who had spent two weeks as an involuntary patient in the hospital's mental health unit - to the Department of Child Safety. Given this man's mental condition, the question is how in 2004 was it that he obtained sole custody of his four children aged between six and ten?
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