CHILDREN caught in violent family break-ups gain stronger protection under proposed amendments to the Family Law Act released yesterday by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

But the proposed changes leave in place the presumption of equal shared parenting responsibility and the obligation to consider equal time with both parents that some critics wanted removed from the act.

The mooted amendments are in response to several reports commissioned by the government on aspects of family law.

''The reports illustrate that the family law system has some way to go in effectively responding to issues relating to family violence,'' Mr McClelland said.

Under the proposals, family law courts would give greater weight to the protection of children from harm, above the benefit of the children having a meaningful relationship with both parents, where family violence was a concern.

The apparent equal weighting given to both considerations in deciding a child's best interest has attracted criticism.

The Family Law Council suggested that giving greater attention to the benefit of a child having a relationship with each parent might not be in the best interests of the child.

Mothers' groups have argued that children have been forced to see violent fathers, or even fathers who have been jailed for sex offences.

The draft bill also proposes a comprehensive definition of family violence that recognises it can take the form of physical assault, harassment, emotional manipulation, financial abuse or threatening behaviour.

It also proposes a wider definition of abuse of a child to include non-accidental physical injury and psychological abuse, including exposure to family violence and neglect.

The Attorney-General did not accept the radical change proposed in a commissioned report by former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm to allow judges to decide outcomes for children based solely on what was in their best interest. His report said current law ''nudged'' judges towards the prescribed outcomes of awarding parents shared responsibility for major decisions, and of having to consider children spending equal or substantial time with each parent.

However, some of his other recommendations have been adopted in the draft bill, including the deletion of the ''friendly'' parent provision, which obliged judges to have regard to whether a parent encouraged the child's relationship with the other parent. Some parents were afraid to raise claims of violence in case they were considered ''unfriendly'' parents and were punished.

In addition under the draft, parents would no longer have cost orders made against them for making false allegations or statements. This provision deterred many parents from raising truthful claims in case the court did not believe them.

Another significant change would be greater responsibility on lawyers, counsellors and other advisers to encourage parents to prioritise protection of children from harm. Currently, they have an obligation to encourage shared parental responsibility and equal time.

A surprise is the mooted inclusion of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a new object of the act.

Submissions on the changes close on January 14. A copy of the draft bill is available on the Attorney-General's website.