There has been increased discussion in the media recently about the future of family law. You might recall our article from earlier this year which discussed some of the main recommendations arising from the family law inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).
The Government is yet to respond in detail to the recommendations in the ALRC report. It has said that it wants to move forward with its plans to amalgamate the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. This proposal was rejected by the parliament earlier this year. This proposal to change the structure of the court system is very different to the structural changes to the court system recommended in the ALRC report.
The Government has recently announced a further inquiry into the family law system. This further inquiry will focus on:
- improvements for the interaction between the federal family law system and State/Territory child protection/domestic violence systems;
- powers to ensure parties provide complete and honest evidence;
- any reform needed for family law and structure of the courts (if the governments proposed amalgamation of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court goes ahead);
- financial costs to families in family law proceedings;
- effectiveness of family law support services and family dispute resolution services;
- impacts of family law proceedings on children and families;
- issues arising for grandparents; and
- avenues to improve the performance of professionals involved in family law proceedings.
What does this mean for people who are involved in a family law dispute? At this point in time, not a great deal. The further inquiry is due to report by 7 October 2020. It will then be some time before any recommendations are considered by the government and possibly then by the parliament. There will also be an implementation phase as any changes are rolled out.
Some argue that there is an urgent need for change and that continued reviews with no action is not achieving anything. Others argue that a further inquiry is necessary. While this further inquiry does appear to be politically driven, it does give the parliament an opportunity to thoroughly consider the future of family law and issues with the current family law system, including the recommendations by the ALRC.
To put some perspective on the delay suffered by families in Newcastle, there is generally a wait of approximately 18 months (sometimes more) from the time of filing an Initiating Application to receipt of a final judgement. Other family law courts around the country may have longer delays. While it is great that the parliament is considering the issues, many would argue that the fundamental problem is a lack of resourcing – the courts need more judges to push the cases through quicker.
Presumably, the end goal is to create a family law system that is up to date with modern day living, decreasing the delay suffered by many and making the process as efficient, safe and as user-friendly as possible. However, we are unlikely to see any substantial changes to the current family law system for some time.