With the report’s tabling in parliament on Wednesday, 10 April, it is the first time the family law system has had a comprehensive review since the Family Law Act commenced in 1976, a statement from the Attorney-General said.
Contained within the report was a recommendation for the eventual abolishment of federal family courts, with family law disputes to be returned to the states and territories.
The law reform commission also recommended simplified property division, with the inclusion of “a starting position that separated couples made equal contributions during the relationship”.
Other noteworthy considerations of the report included the removal of mandatory consideration of particular living arrangements, and clearer consequences for couples and advisers “if they don’t seek to resolve disputes as quickly, inexpensively, and efficiently as possible, and with the least acrimony”.
The 574-page report contains 60 recommendations in total, which was broken down into a number of subject areas, including:
- Closure of the jurisdictional gap;
- Children’s matters;
- A simplified approach to property division;
- Encouragement of amicable resolution;
- Case management: efficiency and accountability;
- Compliance with children’s orders; s
- Support services in the Courts;
- Building accountability and transparency;
- Legislative clarity; and
- Secondary interventions.
In arguing the Law Reform Commission’s position regarding the review, the report said “ultimately, the case for reform is that the system is not adequately assisting Australian separated couples to resolve disputes following the breakdown of their relationship”, highlighting protection of children and sufferers of family violence, protraction in delays surrounding disputes, and the fact that substantive law “is no longer clear or comprehensible”.
According to the report, implementations of the recommendations will promote an integrated court response to family law matters, assist parties to understand the family law legislation and resolve their disputes under the umbrella of the law.
It will also aid in arrival at parenting orders that best promote a child’s best interests, assist in parenting order compliance, increase resolution of parenting, financial and property matters outside of the court, and reduce “acrimony, cost, and delay in the adjudication of family law disputes through the courts”, among other outcomes.
Now that the commission’s recommendations are publicly available, the Honourable Christian Porter MP said the government “envisages a further period of engagement with key stakeholders” as necessary to develop options for reform and report responses.
He noted his government is “completely committed to ending unnecessary costs and delay for Australian families”.
They were “disappointed that Labor rejected sensible reform to the family court system to create a single integrated court with a single set of rules and procedures with increased funding for the court after the proposed merger” the attorney-general continued.
The report’s release coincides with yesterday’s announcement of the federal election taking place on 18 May, 2019.
Mr Porter stated that “if re-elected, the government will remain fully committed to a clear path forward of merging the Federal Circuit Court with the Family Court into a single, new and more efficient court and would also be fully committed to considering and developing individual responses to the complex issues raised in each of the 60 recommendations made in the final ALRC report”.