Last week the federal government announced it would kick in $468 million in recurrent funding for family relationship centres and other family law services across Australia over the next three years.
Law Society of NSW president Pauline Wright welcomed news of the multimillion-dollar funding but with the added warning that family law services were buckling from resource pressures.
She said that the government’s three-year funding commitment, which was a reduction from the previous five-year funding period, only served to create uncertainty in a strained system.
“This funding is unlikely to ease the chronic delays and the burdens upon current judges in the Family Law Courts much of which have arisen as a result of an increase in the complexity of matters, workloads and limited financial resources,” Ms Wright said.
Ms Wright said no additional money appeared to have been committed for family law services, with an annual allocation by federal government sitting at $156 million. She added that in her state of NSW, the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Family Law Courts had exacerbated caseloads.
Despite there being a full complement of judges in NSW, the numbers are not enough to deal with the full ambit of matters ranging from surrogacy, to same-sex and de facto relationships.
“Family law services, including family relationship centres, family consultants and the new parental management hearings can help families resolve disputes,” Ms Wright said.
“But there are many circumstances in which recourse to the courts and the expertise of solicitors is the only viable option, including where there are complex disputes over assets, power imbalances in the relationships of parties or family violence.”
The Law Society of NSW has indicated that it plans to contribute to a comprehensive review into the family law system being led by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
“We will continue working with the Law Council of Australia to seek reform to the system in the best interests of families and victims of family violence," Ms Wright said.