Family law experts have dismissed calls from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party for the Family Court to be abolished, but say an overhaul is needed.
Ms Hanson has said she wants the controversial court system to be scrapped and replaced with a tribunal made up of people from “mainstream Australia”.
But experts in the field say although there are problems, a new tribunal would not be the answer to a broken system.
Diane Bryant, the current Family Court Justice, said constitutionally the Family Court could not be abolished.
“It’s embedded into our constitution and the difficulty with having a tribunal is that it could possibly be a toothless tiger, in that courts are designed to make orders that are enforceable,” she said.
Marie Sullivan, a family law expert, said she thought One Nation was “onto something here because the Family Court is dysfunctional”.
“It is in need of overhaul and it does require new ways of finding solutions for people who are caught up in this system.”
Flaws in the current system have meant delays of sometimes years for cases.
But rather than creating a new tribunal, there have been calls for better funding to deal with the high number of cases.
Growing number of marriages splitting puts pressure on system.
Ms Sullivan said marriages breaking down in higher numbers over the last 25 years had stretched an already overburdened system.
“That’s a huge change and what’s happened is that funding and the appointment of court officers, whether they be judges or whoever, that has not kept the pace,” she said.
“So there’s an incredible backlog and with hearings, it can take up to four years to get a date for a final hearing, if indeed you can’t resolve your differences in the meantime.”
And in turn, she said, educating those going through the system about their options needed to improve.
In Australia, only about 5 per cent of Family Court cases made it as far as a trial.
Current alternative methods for resolving disputes outside the court include mediation, negotiation, family dispute resolution and arbitration.
Ms Sullivan said while there were already a range of alternative methods of dealing with disputes, “there is great lack of knowledge of education around that”.
She said only about 3 to 5 per cent of people ended up at a hearing before a judge in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court.
“But in the meantime, they’re going through a lot of what we call interlocutory steps and it’s very time consuming and it’s very expensive and it’s very frustrating,” Ms Sullivan said.
“The delays and those steps that have to occur along the way cause tempers to rise and for more conflict to occur.
“If people become aware of the alternative methods and are educated about them, then the huge overload that’s occurring in the Family Court need not occur.”
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