The family law system is often under scrutiny, with efforts constantly being made in an attempt to make the family law system more accessible and efficient.
Over the years many proposals have been made by the government to resolve the issues faced by the family law system.
What are the issues faced by family law system?
- long waiting times
- high legal costs
- high level of applications before the court at any one time due to the low number of judicial officers able to hear cases
You may have seen in the media recently that the Attorney-General announced a proposal which would ultimately restructure the family law courts. The proposal would see an amalgamation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia. This new court would be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
What is the Attorney General’s Family Court restructure proposal?
1. There will be two divisions of the court:
Division 1: This will essentially be the Family Court.
Division 2: This will essentially be the Federal Circuit Court which hears both family law and general law matters.
2. The new proposal does not provide for further judicial officers to be appointed.
This means there will be the same number of cases and judges to hear the cases, but rather than having two courts there will be one.
3. The appeal division of the family court will be abolished and replaced by a family law appeal division of the Federal Court of Australia.
This new appeals division will hear the majority of the family law appeals. It is unclear at this stage whether new judges will be appointed for this new division of the Federal Court.
If that is the case, it is a concern that the Attorney General has not clarified whether any new judicial officers who are appointed in the family law appeal division of the Federal Court will have family law experience.
4. There will be one set of rules and forms for the new court.
This is a positive, as it will reduce the confusion between users of the courts in respect to what rules and forms they are required to use.
The proposed changes, once the new court is in place, are said to provide one point of entry for all family law matters into the family law court system and is expected to approve efficiency.
Is this proposal really going to solve the problems presently faced by the family law system?
In my view, the proposal is not going to resolve the issues faced by the family law system. What the family law system needs is further funding from the government to support the current court system. We need funding to ensure the resources required in the current system are being provided, to allow for efficiency in matters, and a greater number of judges to hear the large volume of cases currently before the courts.
It seems that the proposal is premature given that the Australian Law Reform Commission is presently undertaking a complete review of the family law system. I believe it would be more logical for any changes or reform to the family law system is carefully considered after the Australian Law Reform Commission review of the system is completed. An attempt to implement any reform before that time may only further reduce the limited resources available to the courts and/or create new problems.