Key social issues in the development of Australian family law: Research and its impact on policy and practice1

Lawrie Moloney*, Ruth Weston, Alan Hayes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


As in other Western countries, Australian society has changed considerably over the past 50 years, creating demands for shifts in family-related policies, practices and legislation. The social sciences have played an important role in this process by monitoring changes, informing the development of appropriate responses and assessing the effectiveness of such responses. In this article, we briefl y explore four key social changes that have had a profound impact on Australian families - women's increasing participation in the workforce; changing perceptions of fatherhood; greater recognition of the existence and destructive consequences of family violence and child abuse; and the increased emphasis on the rights of the child. We suggest that the first two of these changes contributed significantly to the introduction of the Australian Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), and that the other two changes have had a continuing significant infl uence on legislators' attempts to articulate and implement acceptable decision-making principles with regard to post-separation parenting. Next we consider the most recent major amendments to Australian family law, the 2006 'shared parental responsibility' legislation, and its subsequent evaluation by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. We show how this evaluation has provided a basis for examining both the extent to which the policy and practice intentions of these reforms were being achieved, and the extent to which further changes were required. We conclude by noting how the evaluation, along with other research, has contributed to further important changes to family law service provision and further significant legislative amendments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-138
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Family Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Decisions about children
  • Family law
  • Family violence
  • Fatherhood
  • Rights of the child
  • Shared parenting
  • Social change
  • Women in the workforce


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