Christine, not her real name, “first stood up to the violence” about three years ago.
She has two small children with her former partner and had to involve both the police and the courts as she fought for her own safety and that of her children.
Navigating the family law system has not been easy. She is well-educated but has been representing herself in court, while her former partner has lawyers acting on his behalf.
She has found herself in the “bizarre” situation where “strangers are sort of pulling, tugging on your life” in court. “It’s really horrible,” she said.
Christine filed proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court, one of two courts in Australia that deals with family law matters, in 2016 but it was not until late 2017 that her application for an order for sole parental responsibility was heard.
Christine says that while some delays in her case were caused by her ex-partner, the court’s diary is also “so full”.
“It’s not the court’s fault; it’s the quantity of cases that they have. Even getting a mediation can take a long time,” she said.
In May, federal Attorney-General Christian Porter announced a controversial shakeup of the family law system in a bid to rein in delays and waiting lists.
The plan involves merging the 42-year-old Family Court, a specialist court which hears the most complex family law disputes, with the lower-level Federal Circuit Court, which was set up in 2000 and now hears the vast majority of family law matters. He is expected to introduce legislation to give effect to the merger within a week.
The legal profession has greeted the announcement with caution. NSW Law Society president Doug Humphreys said the society welcomed “a single point of entry into family court system and the use of similar forms and case management procedures” but it remained “of the view that the system is grossly under-resourced and any changes must be accompanied by additional resources”.
Community Legal Centres NSW executive director Tim Leach said there was “an urgent need for increased resources in rural, regional and remote areas, including training for local magistrates, more Federal Circuit Court sitting dates and family dispute resolution services”.
“At this point the government would be better off allocating additional funding to current services, rather than making ad hoc and complicated changes that appear to downgrade the status of family law,” Mr Leach said.
Mr Porter has said the merger would generate $3 million in savings that could be redeployed by the new Federal Circuit and Family Court, and allow up to 8000 additional cases to be resolved each year.
Asked if more resources would be given to the court, Mr Porter said “the difficulty with putting more money into what is fundamentally a broken structure has been that you don’t fix the structure”.
On Friday, Mr Porter released a report by consultants PwC Australia on the efficiency of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. Commissioned by Mr Porter’s department and completed in April, the report estimates that 8000 additional cases could be revolved each year through a combination of the merger and a range of other measures, including reducing the number of appeals heard by three judges instead of one.
Bar Association President Arthur Moses, SC, said the report was written in six weeks and “does not provide a clear mandate for the government’s proposed restructure of the family law system”.
“The PwC report confirms our view that Parliament needs to pause and carefully consider these proposed reforms and most importantly consult the community, not just a select group of lawyers or judges but the people who will be affected by this,” he said.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the Opposition was “obviously very concerned about the process” and consultation on the plan had been “appalling”.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732; Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
Read More: Sydney Morning Herald
By: Michaela WhitbournBack to News
The closest train stations are Town Hall, taking the Park Street exit, or St James Station, taking the Elizabeth Street exit. John R Quinn & Co. is on the corner of Park and Elizabeth.
Best parking is in the Domain parking station. Take the moving footway and cross Hyde Park to reach our offices.