Is the family court system really broken?
Australia’s family court system is by no means perfect. It just might not be broken in the way that you think it is. The Australian Law Reform Commission recently released its latest report on the health of Australia’s family court system. Culminating in a monolithic 500+ page report, the results were nothing short of damning, if not surprising. Some of the recommendations included:
- simplifying the family law legislation,
- introducing a starting presumption of ’50/50 contributions’ to all family property and financial separation matters, and
- abolition of the federal family law system, and giving all family law powers back to the states.
While these recommendations seem drastic, they are hardly new to the Australian context. For example, Commonwealth Attorney-General, Christian Porter, just last year called for the merging of the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court. If his efforts were successful, this would have resulted in the scaling back of the Family Court. Instead, a single point-of-entry would be responsible for all low-level federal matters. This would effectively eliminate any specialist entity devoted to family law matters.
Ultimately, this proposal proved unpopular with the community and legal profession-at-large. As of this writing, efforts to push this through appear to have abated (for the meantime).
Calls for reform keep missing the core issues
Reform proposals often acknowledge the backlogs and pressures that exist within the current Family Law system. However, by focussing solely on trying to “fix the system”, these reforms often fail to address the critical issue of under-resourcing. As it relates to family law reform, the tendency is for governments (of both persuasions) to cut funds to family breakdown specialists, including family lawyers.
Beyond “flat-lining” Family Court funding, with the consequent blow-out in family court lead-times, services like legal aid and community legal centres continue to experience funding cuts. These important services are currently receiving some of the lowest amounts they’ve had in decades. Unfortunately these funding cuts continue to happen despite the persistent increases in both population growth and family breakdown in Australia.
We hope that a report of this magnitude highlights that the current capacity issues within the family law system. We will continue to urge policymakers and legislators to recognise the critical importance of resourcing the current system.
If you have a family law issue, please call us now on (08) 6381 0208 or fill out this form to schedule your first 30-min free telephone appointment.
For more information about the ALRC’s recommendations, read this thoughtful analysis courtesy of The Australian.