What the Federal Budget holds for Family Law
It was pleasing to hear in last week’s Federal Budget announcement that there are two significant plans to address the current issues plaguing the family law system: the burden on the Family Law Courts which have been left floundering by inadequate resourcing that is not capable of dealing with the volume of matters that pass through the system, and the complexities surrounding this area of law which can often include serious matters relating to family violence and abuse of children.
$80 million funding boost for Court resourcing
As part of the Budget announcement, the Federal Government announced that it will allocate an additional $80 million in funding, which is aimed at providing further resourcing to Courts and funding in other areas that will ease the burden on the family law system.
In addition, a further $10.7 million will be allocated to be used towards employing additional family consultants. Family consultants play an important part in contested parenting proceedings through the preparation of family reports that help the Courts in making appropriate orders concerning the living arrangements for children. This extra funding will provide a huge boost to the Courts’ ability to progress matters more quickly, ensuring that they have the evidence needed to be able to determine parenting disputes. Currently, matters can be delayed by close to 12-months due to the delays associated parties being able to meet with a family consultant.
The Federal Government has also proposed implementing a new pathway for dealing with less complicated family law disputes through the introduction of Parenting Management Hearings (PMS). Whilst details are yet to emerge about how this system would operate, the Government has announced that the PMS are aimed at giving self-represented parties much quicker access to a legal process, avoiding the need to resolve their matter through a traditional court process. This initiative will initially be rolled out in the Parramatta Registry.
A further $3.4 million will be used to expand Domestic Violence Units which have been established as part of the Women’s Safety Package. This new funding will establish up to six new Units, giving victims of domestic violence access to legal and social support.
The Federal Government has also pledged $55.7 million in funding to Community Legal Centres (CLC) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. This is in response to a funding crisis that earlier threatened to close the doors on CLCs. This funding will enable CLCs to continue to provide legal assistance on a pro bono basis to individuals who cannot otherwise afford legal representation.
Plans for a comprehensive review of the family law system
The Turnbull Government has, as part of their Budget announcements, revealed plans to undertake a comprehensive review into the family law system - the first review of its type since the commencement of the Family Law Act in 1976. The Australian Law Reform Commission will be asked to review the current system and consider what reforms will be necessary to meet the contemporary needs of families, particularly in being able to effectively address family violence and child abuse.
Again, this review is well overdue but will undoubtedly be welcomed by all stakeholders in the family law system who have experienced the current inadequacies of the system in being able to effectively manage family law disputes.