The Family Law Act (Cth) came into operation on the 5th January, 1976. The act replaced the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959.
Prior to the introduction of the Family Law Act, the grounds for a divorce were primarily based on the “fault” of one of the parties to the marriage. These grounds included adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness and insanity. The one exception to this was that a party to a marriage could obtain a divorce if they had been separated for at least 5 years.
The Family Law Act introduced a major change to the grounds of divorce allowing people to apply for a divorce once the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To prove this, a party need only show they had been separated for at least 12 months. “Fault” is no longer a ground for a divorce.
The Family Law Act has changed significantly over the last 25 years, particularly in relation to child matters. Terms such as “Guardianship”, “Child Custody” and “Access” are no longer used. Instead the Act refers to “parenting orders”. Parenting Orders may deal with many things including:
• Who a child is to live with;
• The time a child is to spend with a person;
• How a child will communicate with another person; and
• The allocation of parental responsibility.
The Family Law Act covers all children regardless of whether their parents were married, in a de facto relationship or never living together. Further, it is not only parents who can apply for parenting orders. Grandparents and any other person concerned with the welfare of a particular child can apply for parenting orders in relation to that child.
De Facto Couples
Originally the spousal maintenance and property settlement provisions of the Family Law Act only applied to married couples. Since the 1 March 2009 however, de facto couples in participating states (currently Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory) can apply to the Court for orders in relation to property settlement and spousal maintenance.
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