In an interview with Fairfax last month, the outgoing Family Court Chief Justice endorsed the vitally important review of Australia’s Family Law Act.
Chief Justice Bryant noted the need for a “thorough overhaul” of the structure of the act and that attention should be given to making it “a much more comprehensive statute to read”.
“This task will be considerable in itself,” the Chief Justice told Fairfax.
When Attorney-General George Brandis announced plans for the review during the federal budget in May, he also revealed that the Commonwealth would commit an additional $80 million to family law and family violence services. Of that allocation, $12.7 million will establish parent management hearings and $3.56 million will go towards the pilot of new specialist domestic violence units.
Mr Brandis said in a statement that the review would be used to “contemporise” the family law system, with a final report due in 2018 that provides a roadmap for making dispute resolution simpler.
The extra resourcing for the Family Court system was welcomed by the outgoing chief justice, who will retire in October. She applauded the funding made available for an extra 17 family consultants to support the Family Court, Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of WA, as well as support for a trial workload management program boasting three new registrars.
“I am hoping we can demonstrate the usefulness of this resource and make a case for additional registrars when the evaluation concludes,” the chief justice said.
“There is a compelling need to provide resources to support the judges.”
Family law practitioners across Australia have also welcomed the measures and the extent to which the additional resources can alleviate pressures on the courts. Heather McKinnon, Slater and Gordon family law practice head, told Lawyers Weekly in May that the family consultant trial program could effectively provide a ‘triage’ service for the Family Court.
“In our experience, most disagreements occur between very young parents, with many descending into screaming matches where what’s best for the children is forgotten,” Ms McKinnon said.
“Relationship breakdown is incredibly difficult for children and fighting in court for three years is just going to make things harder, so triaging these smaller issues is going to remove some of the pressure on judges and also be less stressful for children.
“The pilot family consultant program in Parramatta will provide quantitative evidence of what works and what doesn’t, so we can avoid the knee-jerk reactions that have caused many of the current problems plaguing Australia’s family law system,” she said.
Terms of reference for the comprehensive review are expected to be made available by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) soon. It will be the first major review of the legislation since it was introduced in 1976.