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Changes to information-sharing laws and their impact on current and future parenting proceedings

The Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Act 2023 (Cth) (‘the Act’) is a pivotal legislative measure designed to protect children from family violence, child abuse and neglect. It facilitates improved communication among the Courts, child protection agencies, and the police to enhance the protection of vulnerable children. The Act achieves this by repealing section 69ZW of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (‘Family Law Act’) and introducing a new Subdivision, which came into effect on 6 May 2024.

The amendments are based on the findings of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (‘ALRC’) 2019 report, “Family Law for the Future – An inquiry into the Family Law System.” As part of its work for the report, the ALRC examined 11 inquiries conducted between 2001 and 2019. This analysis revealed two major themes: the family law system’s inadequate handling of violence and the need for improved information-sharing between the Courts and state and territory child protection agencies.

What has changed?

Among the amendments are the introduction of two new information-sharing orders which will allow the Courts to promptly seek information from child protection, police, and firearms agencies about:

  • Abuse, neglect, or family violence experienced or witnessed by the children.
  • Family violence involving any party in the legal proceedings.
  • Potential risks of abuse, neglect, or family violence to the children.
  • Potential risks of family violence involving any party in the legal proceedings.

To ensure the information provided by relevant agencies remains current, the Courts can issue information-sharing orders at any stage during the proceedings, including after the final hearing has begun.

These amendments will apply to both new and existing parenting matters.

What types of information can be shared?

The information that might be shared includes documents such as criminal histories; police records showing family violence, child abuse, or risk of abuse; and other violent offences. It also includes records of current interventions by child protection agencies and documents related to firearms licensing and applications.

Ultimately, the Courts have authority to request information from sharing agencies about risks, exposure, or experiences related to family violence, child abuse, or neglect.

Are there situations where my information will not be shared?

There are circumstances in which information cannot be shared with the Courts. This includes privileged information, such as legal advice, information that would disclose the identity of a confidential informant, or information that could endanger someone’s life.

Moreover, numerous safeguards are in place to ensure that information is shared only when appropriate and safe. For instance, information will be shared with the Courts with due regard for the physical and psychological wellbeing of those involved or affected. Furthermore, information will only be requested and shared when necessary to identify, assess, and manage instances of family violence, child abuse, and neglect.

Can an organisation or I refuse a request for information?

An individual cannot oppose a Court’s decision to issue an information-sharing order, nor are the Courts required to seek permission to access information about an individual from an information sharing agency.

How do these laws interact with existing laws regarding subpoenas?

If an order has been issued during child-related proceedings, mandating an information-sharing agency to disclose documents or information, a party involved in those proceedings must not, without the Court’s permission, request a subpoena requiring the agency to provide documents or information related to those proceedings.

What does this information mean for current and future parenting matters?

These changes aim to promote a more integrated approach to child safety and family support, ensuring that safety concerns are effectively addressed. By presenting the relevant Court with a comprehensive understanding of family safety risks, these changes prioritise the best interests and safety of the child when determining parenting orders.

Please do not hesitate to contact Nicholes Family Lawyers on (03) 9670 4122 if you would like further information about the operation of the Act and how it applies to your family.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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