A safe, accessible and inclusive family law system

A safe, accessible and inclusive family law system

Tuesday, 8 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 Family Law System inquiry.

Accessible and inclusive

In our view, an accessible family law system would provide an equivalent service at all stages of the process regardless of where people live, it would ensure cost is not a barrier to access and it would include streamlined procedures that reduce cost and respond to the needs of each family to speed up resolutions.

Critically, the family law system should be inclusive, equitable and culturally safe for all individuals, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those with disability, individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and families in the LGBTIQ+ community.

Resolving disputes earlier

We would encourage a redesigned family law system to focus on supporting families to resolve disputes early, where it is safe to do so, without recourse to the family law courts. Expanding access to legally assisted family dispute resolution (FDR) will be essential to achieve this.  

Legally assisted FDR – supported by case management and experienced chairpersons – is already working effectively to help with the resolution of disputes, but it is not available to all who would benefit from it. This includes parents screened out of non-legally assisted models of FDR due to concerns about safety risks.

Close collaboration with community service organisations to help spot family law issues early is also critical so that families can access family law assistance before disputes escalate.

Greater support for families before they end up at court would reduce the costs of court for parties, which are often prohibitive, and would help to ease the workload of family law courts.

This would ensure the court is hearing the cases that are the most complex and difficult to resolve, with family violence often a factor.

Safety and responding to the needs of each family

To more effectively address these complex cases once they are at court, we recommend a single point of entry to the family law system and the introduction of a case management function at court.

This would include triage at the point of intake to spot issues early and ensure cases are appropriately managed for complexity and level of risk. Our submission makes a range of recommendations to improve court processes to better respond to the needs of each family.

Importantly, to ensure the safety of all participants in the family law system our submission advocates for a modern family law system that holds users of family violence to account and prioritises the safety of victim survivors, including children.

We continue to advocate for a legislated ban on direct cross examination in the family law courts where there is or has been a risk of family violence. We also support early court determinations about family violence so that ongoing court proceedings and court orders are informed by factors impacting on the safety of children and parents.

An effective and efficient family law system would draw on the most appropriate and relevant information to make decisions that are in the best interests of children. As well as early court determinations about family violence, our submission makes a number of other recommendations to give effect to this principle, including the sharing of information between different court jurisdictions to assist with informed decision-making in the best interests of the child.

Importantly, it would also improve children’s participation in decision-making, where safe and appropriate to do so, and give a greater focus to the voice of the child.

Our experience

Our submission draws on our experience as the coordinator of thousands of legally-aided family law services for children and parents each year and our own extensive practice experience as the largest family and children’s law practice in Victoria.

We look forward to continuing to contribute to this important review by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

More information

Read our Submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Family Law System inquiry

Read more about our family law services.

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