New pilot program to reduce court confusion for families experiencing violence

New pilot program to reduce court confusion for families experiencing violence

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

We are pleased to support a new trial program at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria which is aimed at reducing confusion and improving the court process for families experiencing violence.

Under the 12-month trial which is currently being established, magistrates at Shepparton and another site to be determined will be making orders about family law parenting arrangements and the division of property. These orders are normally made in the Commonwealth Family Law Courts.

Victorian magistrates have an existing power to do this, but the Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended that all headquarter Magistrates’ Courts and specialist family violence courts in Victoria be equipped to make family law parenting and property orders.

‘We support initiatives that make it easier for people to navigate between the state family violence and Commonwealth family law jurisdictions regardless of which court they enter first,’ Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law, Nicole Rich said.

‘We are working with the Magistrates’ Court to ensure that the pilot program continues to prioritise the safety of parents and their children, and that people can access the legal information they need to get appropriate family law orders from the Magistrates’ Court.’

Nicole Rich

The Supervising Magistrate for Family Violence and Family Law at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Deputy Chief Magistrate Felicity Broughton, noted that there have been numerous reports and inquiries calling for changes to our justice system to better support people experiencing family violence with family law needs.

‘The siloing of the state and federal justice systems can lead to disastrous consequences for women and children experiencing family violence,' Deputy Chief Magistrate Broughton said.

‘Now is an opportune time to begin building an evidence base in relation to addressing family law needs as early as possible for families already engaging with the Magistrates’ Court for family violence matters.’ 

Deputy Chief Magistrate Felicity Broughton

When established, VLA will offer up to three hours of family law legal advice to parents participating in the trial at the two court locations. As part of the short-term trial, we will provide this service through staff lawyers as well as funding a small number of individual Panel lawyers who join the scheme.

The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria is providing state government funding to VLA to help test this model of support.

‘Having early access to legal advice will enable parents to make better informed decisions about their disputes without the power imbalance often caused by family violence,’ Nicole said.

‘We hope that the pilot will lead to more timely and safe resolutions for families and reduce the need for lengthy family law court cases.’

Nicole Rich

We expect some families participating in the trial will be eligible for ongoing family law assistance. This scheme will create clear referral pathways for clients who have received initial family law advice to obtain a family law grant for ongoing legal assistance where eligible.

More information

Read the full report and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

If you would like more information about VLA’s involvement in this pilot program please contact Samantha Watson, Manager, Family Law Review at


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