Family lawyers claim dramatic cuts to family relationship centres is a blow to dispute resolutions services in Australia.
Funding for such centres was cut by $43.9 million in the 2010/2011 Federal Budget, with the Government also declaring that a means test will be applied before counselling services for families are available.
According to The Australian, a spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McClelland confirmed the cuts and said total funding for the Family Relationship Services program would be just over $200 million each year, while family dispute resolution services would get $90 million a year.
As part of the changes also outlined in this week's budget, after 1 July 2011 a means test will be applied to counselling services meaning parents must pay a fee of $30 per hour for the second and third hours of mediation, if one of them earns more than $50,000.
Family lawyer and director of Brisbane Family Law Centre Clarissa Rayward told Lawyers Weekly she is not too concerned about the $30 fee, but is worried that dispute resolution services are receiving more cuts.
"If you compare [the fee] to a private service...it's going to cost $150 or so...so in the greater scheme of things that's a very reasonable fee. But it's concerning that the funding has been cut so dramatically," Rayward said.
But Rayward, unlike some other experts, does not believe the funding cuts in dispute resolution services will drive people back to the courts.
"I'm not convinced that will make people rush off to court. I think it will make them look at other options. But some of the money is being redirected into the legal aid offices which is such a positive," she said.
Discussing the budget cutbacks to Family Court judges to save $10 million, Rayward points out that that the proposed merger of the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court is still on the political agenda to a degree.
"So it's a bit unknown at the moment as to whether judges are not being replaced because there's this move still on foot to consider this.
"I think with an election just a few months down the track it's not going to be a priority."