The sheer size of the State of Western Australia raises unique challenges for separating couples that live in rural, regional and remote areas. The geographical size and distribution of the population in WA means that many find it difficult to access legal advice and may incur additional costs in doing so. Ancillary services, such as family dispute resolution and counselling are also often difficult to locate and can require long distance travel.
- In August 2018, the Law Council of Australia released its final report into the state of access to justice in Australia. The ‘Justice Project’ focused on a number of groups experiencing significant disadvantage in terms of access to the legal system and legal services. One of the findings of the Project was that additional funding and resources are required to maintain and, where required, expand regional courts, having regard to their important function in upholding the rule of law and fostering community engagement through a tangible local presence.
- The Justice Project report also recommends that alternative dispute resolution is available and taken up in rural, regional and remote communities. In most cases, attendance at family dispute resolution is now compulsory and parents who wish to resolve disputes relating to children are required to make a genuine effort to do so before commencing court proceedings.
- At Paterson & Dowding we have a number of practitioners who
have lived and worked in regional and remote Australia, including
Pinjarra, Bunbury, Geraldton, Port Hedland and Broome.
We have lawyers who can visit clients and attend court in regional WA. The Family Court of WA is located in Perth, however, court documents may be filed in the registries of the Magistrates Court throughout WA. Regional Magistrates can also hear urgent family law matters before transferring the proceedings to the Family Court. The Family Court can then list matters in a country circuit conducted by a family law Magistrate.
A country circuit is where judges and magistrates travel to regional towns throughout the year. The Family Court of WA currently holds circuits in Bunbury, Albany, Broome, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie.
The Court has recently taken steps to provide for electronic filing of most family law documents which should make this process considerably easier for those who do not live in the Perth metropolitan area. This is provided, of course, that rural, regional and remote West Australians also have access to the necessary technology and telecommunications infrastructure to allow them to take advantage of this service.
At Paterson & Dowding we understand the additional challenges that are involved in trying to resolve disputes that involve one or more party living in the country, including difficulties of privacy and confidentiality in smaller communities. Our lawyers have experience in dealing with financial issues that are unique to rural landholders, including the conflict that arises between the farmer who may be asset rich and cash poor and the need for a financial settlement that does not involve the selling of the family farm.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.