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What is the Family Law Act?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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The Family Law Act refers to an Australian Parliamentary law passed in 1975 that altered existing statutes regarding divorce and child custody. In America, the term “family law act” also is sometimes used to refer to the Family and Medical Leave Act, a US law that guarantees leave for workers with a newborn or adopted child, or those dealing with a serious medical issue in the family. While these laws are quite distinct and from completely different jurisdictions, both deal with the well-being of families during crisis or change, and represent a move by both governments toward increased family rights.

Created in 1975, Australia's Family Law Act forms a crucial part of the family law system throughout the country. The new law greatly altered divorce law in Australia by creating a “no fault” clause, which meant that marriages could be terminated based simply on irreconcilable differences between partners. This was seen as a revolutionary change which some experts credit with vastly simplifying the divorce process throughout Australia. The Family Law Act also gave the court power to issue restraining orders in cases of suspected domestic abuse and clarified custody and property division regulations in divorce or separation proceedings. The 1975 version of the Family Law Act has been repeatedly altered since its inception, and remains an evolving legal doctrine.

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The US-based Family and Medical Leave Act, also called the family law act or FMLA, is legislation geared toward protecting workers and families. The central provision of this family law act is that workers should not be vulnerable to losing their job in order to care for a newborn, adopted child, or ill relative. Eligible workers, who generally must have worked at a company for at least one year, may receive up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave to manage health issues or provide infant care. The 12 weeks of leave are only available one time in a 12 month period.

Under FMLA, the worker must be allowed to retain job benefits while on leave, and must be able to return to the same position following eligible leave. Employers that fail to comply with leave for eligible workers may be sued for retaliation or unlawful firing of an employee that requests or takes leave. Exceptions to the mandate include small businesses with less than 50 employees, leave taken to care for a sick relative that is not a parent, child, or spouse of the worker, and leave permitted for minor illnesses such as a cold.

Some states have chosen to expand the rights granted by FMLA to create a more comprehensive family law act. Some of the expansions include leave granted to care for injured family members who are in the military, or to manage affairs in the case of a sudden military deployment within the family. A few states have also expanded protections to include domestic partners and the children of domestic partners under the protection, to ensure that leave can still be taken for couples who do not choose or are not permitted to be legally married.

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