The current crisis in the family law system and solutions to keep you out of Court

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When I first meet people experiencing relationship breakdown and seeking my assistance to resolve the issues which arise for them, commonly a big fear is of ending up in Court, in a lengthy, acrimonious and expensive legal battle.  

To compound such fears, over recent months there has been a sharp focus in the media  about the lack of resourcing available within the family law court system. In recent weeks the Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant spoke out in the media about the Family Court not having the resources it needs to protect families and called for the government to set aside more funding to help the court triage serious allegations of family violence to ensure the safety of children.

In late February 2016 Family Court Judge Justice Colin Forrest also shared his concerns about the lack of resourcing of the Family Law Courts when speaking at a conference for the Family Law Practitioners Association in Cairns, at which I also presented. Justice Forrest’s presentation was thought provoking and a rare insight from the perspective of a Judge into the issues currently facing the family law system.

In this presentation to family lawyers, Justice Forrest questioned whether the resourcing of the Family Law Courts is a national priority given the very limited funding and judicial resources which are allocated to family law system when contrast to the Federal Court of Australia (which deals with general federal law matters).

By way of illustration Justice Forrest referred to the following statistics in the paper presented:-

  • The Federal Court of Australia has 46 sitting judges and has about 3000 filings in a year (about 62 filings per judge per year). When judges have retired they have been replaced in a timely fashion.
  • In contrast, the judicial resources available in the family law system are considerably less:-
  • The Family Court of Australia has 10 judges assigned to the Appeal Division who only hear appeals not trials. There are 23 Trial Judges and has about 2700 new matters per year (about 117 filings per Trial Judge for the year).
  • The Federal Circuit Court (FCC), which also hears family law matters, has 64 judges. The FCC receives about 17,000 filing a year, excluding applications for divorce). That equates to about 265 filings per Judge per year

Whilst acknowledging the need to resource the Courts in which commercial disputes are determined given the relationship of a timely resolution of commercial disputes has to the health of the economy Justice Forrest argued that given family is “one of the key foundational blocks in our community, timely and predictable resolution of family law disputes has an equally important and fundamental relationship to the overall health and wellbeing of our society as a whole..”.

Current timeframes in Brisbane Registry of the Family Law Courts

For those I meet who fear going to Court it is important to keep in perspective that for some, whilst an application in Court may be filed, it will not necessarily mean the outcome will be determined by a Judge. For example, in the Family Court in Brisbane, currently an average of 26% of matters filed require a Judge to determine them by hearing and then writing a judgment.

What is now resulting in calls for greater resources is that the Family Law Courts are simply unable to keep up with hearing and determination of matters as fast as they are coming into the Courts.

As a result of the presentation I learned that already 57% of matters pending in Brisbane have been pending for longer than 12 months and the median time for a matter to come to trial in Brisbane is 21.5 months. That time is likely to increase in the near future.  In the Federal Circuit Court, which was set up to be a speedy, convenient and more cost effective alternative to the Family Court, the median time for a matter to get to trial nationally is 13.7 months.

I do not think this is not an acceptable period to wait for finalisation of disputes following relationship breakdown.

I see first hand why the people I assist, who are experiencing relationship breakdown fear ending up in Court. I work hard to keep those who I assist away from Court wherever possible by guiding them to more effective ways to resolve the issues encountered by them following relationship breakdown and assisting their families to move forward sooner.

A better way – alternative dispute resolution 

In my work at Phillips Family Law I assist the vast majority of clients to stay out of Court by resolving the issues arising following relationship breakdown via the many alternative dispute resolution processes in my toolkit including:-

  • Negotiation;
  • Mediation;
  • Collaboration; and
  • Arbitration;

I provide strategic advice as to the process which will best suit my clients and meet their individual needs to resolve their financial and parenting matters as quickly and as amicably as possible.

As I regularly work with estate planners and financial planners, this ensures a complimentary approach to asset protection strategies for my clients and are able to enhance the benefits to my clients given the added flexibility available when working in alternative dispute resolution processes.

How I can help 

If you are  contemplating separation, have separated or you have a family member, friend or client who has and wants to stay out of court, don’t hesitate to contact me to explore what processes are most suitable, best meets their needs and will help them to stay out of court wherever possible.

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