The purpose of the Family Court of Australia is to help families resolve their most complex family disputes and decide matters according to the law, promptly, courteously and effectively. However, families in the thick of family law court proceedings often talk about the "delay", "expense" and "exhaustion" that they experience. So, what's going wrong? According to a recent media release by the Law Council of Australia, the family court system needs urgent funding.
To deliver the care that families need takes time and, as the old saying goes, time is money. In the last six years, the backlog of family law cases has grown by 34% in the Family Court and 64% in the Federal Circuit Court. This translates to more Australian families whose cases are delayed and whose lives are disrupted. More and more families are waiting over 12 months to have their cases heard. In the last year alone, the number of cases that have been in the Family Court for over two years has gone up by 44%.
Separating families who end up in court need specialist support ( consider the unique needs of children and people affected by family violence) and there are simply not enough Judges, Registrars and Administrative Staff to adequately deliver that to the Australian public. The financial and emotional burden on separating families is immense and the pressure on our existing court infrastructure is such that those burdens cannot be adequately addressed.
The family law system cannot help the nation's families with the resources that it currently has. The unfortunate fact is that unless those resources – particularly the court's financial resources – are increased, the family court system will continue to struggle and its ability to provide the specialist services which it is renowned for will be compromised.
As a consequence of the lack of funding for the Family Court of Australia, clients must always be alive to the prospect of reaching a reasonable compromise of their family law matter, and lawyers need to take steps to encourage their clients to explore methods of resolving their matter other than through expensive and protracted litigation. That requires the ability to provide holistic advice and to be aware of the different alternative dispute resolution options available.
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