15 reforms to improve the safety, accessibility and inclusiveness of the family law system

15 reforms to improve the safety, accessibility and inclusiveness of the family law system

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Australia’s family law system should be accessible, inclusive and equitable, safe for all children and parents, and focused on supporting families to resolve their disputes early when it is safe to do so.

We have suggested ways for the system to realise these goals in our submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the family law system. We envisage a family law system that:

Supports parents to resolve disputes without having to go to the courts

  1. Access to legally assisted family dispute resolution is expanded to assist parents otherwise screened out of family mediation to resolve family law matters without having to go to court, including for property matters if the full and frank disclosure requirements can be met.
  2. The integration of family dispute resolution and the family law courts is strengthened to assist families to resolve their disputes faster, in a way that is responsive to the needs of the family at each stage of the process and reduces the need for a judge to make a decision at the final hearing.
  3. Closer collaboration with community service organisations is promoted to help spot family law issues early so that families can access family law assistance before disputes escalate.

Is safe and responds to the needs of the child and family

  1. Case management at the family law courts is introduced to triage at the point of intake, to spot issues early, to inform and undertake ongoing risk assessment, and to ensure cases are appropriately managed for complexity and level of risk so that families are better supported through the court process and judges are better equipped to make decisions informed by all the relevant evidence.
  2. Early determinations about family violence are made by the family law courts so that ongoing court proceedings and court orders are informed by factors impacting on the safety of children and parents.
  3. A legislative ban on direct cross-examination in family violence situations is in effect in cases where there is or has been a risk of family violence to protect victim survivors against direct cross-examination by, or having to directly cross-examine, an ex-partner who has perpetrated family violence against them.
  4. Family Advocacy and Support Services is expanded to all court locations including regional circuits, to further help people navigate across the family law and family violence legal systems and access non-legal support services (such as family violence support workers).
  5. Court processes are clearer and easier through the introduction of special lists, triaging of urgent matters, and judicial case monitoring
  6. A new simplified stream for determining the settlement of small property and debt pools is introduced to provide a quicker and more cost-effective process and provide access to justice. 

Enables good decision-making based on the best available evidence

  1. The legislation supports the continuation of the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration when deciding parenting orders.
    The most appropriate and relevant information to help make decisions in the best interests of children is identified and sought earlier in family law proceedings. As well as early court determinations about family violence, family reports are more readily available, subpoena powers are used more regularly to source relevant information, and information is shared safely between the child protection, family violence and family law jurisdictions.
  2. A presumption and guiding principles are introduced into the legislation to ensure more equitable property settlements post-separation.
    For family law property disputes, additional measures that strengthen mandatory financial disclosure are implemented to support the timely and fair resolution of property disputes.
  3. Children’s participation in decision-making where safe and appropriate to do so is improved and there is a greater focus on the voice of the child.
    Experts, informed by the relevant social science and with skills in meeting with children, facilitate the inclusion of the child’s voice in the process.
  4. All family law professionals including judicial officers are trained in the knowledge and skills required to respond to the complex needs of families. Professionals and judicial officers in the family law system are required to undertake compulsory and regular professional development regarding common issues in family law cases.
    These include child development, the impact of separation on children, the nature and dynamics of family violence, the effects of trauma and the provision of culturally safe and inclusive services.

Is accessible

  1. Access to duty lawyer services and legal aid representation is expanded to ensure individuals experiencing greater levels of vulnerability or challenges accessing justice are assisted.
    Safe and culturally appropriate legal assistance is available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those with disability, individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and families in the LGBTIQ+ community.
  2. The family law system is more responsive to the diverse needs of the broad range of families with family law issues. Specialist support services are available, mainstream services (including family dispute resolution) and the courts are culturally safe and inclusive, Indigenous liaison officers and family consultants are re-introduced, interpreter services are available to all who need it, court procedures are made more accessible to people with a disability, and an equivalent level of service is available regardless of where people live.

More information

Read more about our submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission's inquiry.

Read more about our family law services.

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