New Laws to let you check out the criminal background of your new partner before committing to the relationship….is this a benefit or a minefield!

For some time there has been much political and social debate surrounding family violence including its connection with family law.  This has led to a lot of research into and some significant changes in the law to help combat family violence and to allow for greater community awareness of this issue.

In June 2012 the Family Law Act was amended to change the definition of “family violence” and changed how the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court deal with allegations of family violence in family law matters.

The 2012 amendments expanded the term “family violence” to include acts and behaviours outside of traditional physical violence.  The new Family Law definition of “family violence” is:

“Violent, threatening, or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of a person’s family (the family member) or causes the family member to be fearful”.

Western Australia, which is not part of our Federal Family Law system, is alo completing a comprehensive study into family violence.  The Western Australian Legal Commission has caaled for submissions on a scheme where women can apply for a “criminal record check” on a potential partner before entering into a new relationship.  This will allow police to disclose information about a person’s criminal history to help potential victims and people who have concerns for their safety and welfare.

The idea of checking up on your partner stems from a UK scheme which will come into force in March 2014.  The initiative known as “Clare’s Law” was enacted because of the death of Clare Wood at the hands of her ex-partner who had a history of violence.  The UK, which piloted the scheme over the past 2 years, has reported that 386 people – mostly women – have made an application wanting information about a partner’s past criminal history.  One quarter of these applications have been from concerned family members.

Whilst several domestic violence support organisations support the scheme, there is still much debate around the potential impact that disclosure of sensitive information may have on the men involved.  Some of the implications include –

  1. Danger to the person who made the enquiry if she discussed the information with the perpetrator;
  2. Possible adverse affects on the perpetrator if the information is disclosed to third parties (eg employers, social clubs etc); and
  3. Whether disclosure of such information will prevent work being able to be done with the perpetrator to educate and encourage him to change his past behaviour.

It will be interesting to see if such a scheme will be implemented and what impact this will have on the number of family violence incidents.

Should you have a family law inquiry, please contact Kim Lawson of Brazel Moore Lawyers on 43247699.