What’s happening in family law legal aid services

What’s happening in family law legal aid services

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

In 2019, our family law program is focusing on improving access to services for priority clients and supporting practitioners to provide quality family law services.

Demand for our services is continuing to increase, and as we are operating in a tightening economic environment, we are also focused on ensuring our services remain financially sustainable.

Family support extended

The Australian government has recently extended funding for another three years for our successful Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) at the Commonwealth Family Law Court registries in Melbourne and Dandenong. This means we can continue to co-ordinate crucial legal and social services support at the family law courts for people experiencing or using family violence.

We are also continuing to fund our successful family violence to family law continuity of service delivery program for families in Melbourne’s south-east.

Improving access

We are beginning preparations for the Lawyer-assisted Family Law Property Mediation Trials announced in November 2018 as part of the Commonwealth’s Women’s Economic Security Package.

This scheme will fund Legal Aid Commissions in each state and territory to conduct a two-year trial of lawyer-assisted mediation for family law property matters.

This trial aims to support separating couples with small value property pools to mediate and reach agreement about splitting their property, without having to go to court.

Legally-assisted mediation can assist separating couples with more complex needs and legal issues, including cases of financial abuse, that may influence people’s capacity to negotiate.  The trial is also aimed at addressing the current absence of affordable and proportionate legal assistance for small value family law property matters. 

The trial will commence in January 2020, and more information will be available later in the year.

Cross examination ban

We will also be administering a new Commonwealth Government scheme designed to better protect victims of family violence.

From 11 September 2019, in Commonwealth family law cases where there is family violence, cross examination must be conducted by a legal representative.

For those parties without ongoing legal representation for their family law case, these representatives can be either a privately retained lawyer or one funded by the Family Violence and Cross Examination Scheme.

Read some more information and answers to common questions about the scheme

Supporting quality family law practice

We have established a Family Law Community of Practice to drive, support and enhance our family law practices and we are excited to have held our first meeting earlier this year. The aim is to create a dialogue with all family lawyers who do legally aided work, whether in a private firm, a community legal centre, an Aboriginal legal service or in VLA’s staff practice, in relation to practice issues and how we can collectively meet the needs of Victorians with complex family law needs.

Our first meeting highlighted a focus on quality and our next meeting will look to expand on this theme and the needs of family law practitioners across Victoria in order to support quality practice.

We are continuing to develop practice tools and other quality initiatives and most recently we held our first National Independent Children’s Lawyers training.

Law reform for a safer and more accessible system

Since its creation, the family law system in Australia has been subject to improvement, innovation and reform to ensure it meets the community’s expectations.

Nowhere is this more apparent than its evolution to better recognise and respond to family violence. Over the past five years, family law inquiries and reports in Australia have focused on the intersection between family law and not only child protection but also family violence.

The recently released Australian Law Reform Commission Report on the Family Law System is a further body of work for consideration by Governments and those working within the system.

The ALRC’s recommendation to return family law disputes to state-based courts should be carefully assessed, particularly for the extent that such a change might help our clients who are expected to manage multiple related legal matters across multiple jurisdictions.

But simply changing the structure or venue of the court will not necessarily make the system safer, more accessible or more equitable. These goals must remain the focus of any reform to the family law system.

We continue to champion reform that will ensure the family law system is safe, inclusive and accessible for everyone who needs to use it. This includes early court decisions about family violence, to keep parents and children safe while family law disputes are resolved. We would also like to see more families being able to access legally assisted mediation services to resolve their disputes without needing to go to court, and more help for people to divide small amounts of property or money. Small settlements can make a big difference in providing a safe and healthy environment for children after a separation.

More information

To find out more about our Family Law Community of Practice please contact Brigid Jenkins, Family Law Service Program Manager at Brigid.Jenkins@vla.vic.gov.au.

For more information about our reform agenda for family law please contact Associate Director, Family Law, Emma Smallwood at Emma.Smallwood@vla.vic.gov.au


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