How true is it that ‘the family court system is 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 include simplifying the family law legislation and introducing a starting presumption of ’50/50 contributions’ to all family property and financial separation matters.
However, the most controversial recommendation of all is what the report refers to as ‘Closing the jurisdictional gap‘. If implemented this would mean abolishing the federal family law system, and giving all family law powers back to the states.
The ‘family court system is broken’ story is hardly new. Just last year, Commonwealth Attorney-General, Christian Porter, called for the merging of the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court.
If successful, this would have resulted in the scaling back of the Family Court. A single point-of-entry would be responsible for all low-level federal matters. This would effectively eliminate a specialist entity devoted to family law.
Ultimately, this proposal proved unpopular with the community and legal profession-at-large, and 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, the response to these backlogs is to continue stripping down the very institutions themselves.
Unfortunately, this focus on “fixing the system” fails to address the critical issue of under-resourcing. Despite persistent population growth and increasing rates of family break-down in Australia, governments (of both persuasions) often opt to limit or cut funding to family breakdown specialists instead.
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.
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) 9381 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.