25 February 2021

MEDIA RELEASE: Family Court Merger will impact on vulnerable children

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Legislation which passed the Senate last week, merging the Family Court with the chronically underfunded and over-worked Federal Circuit Court will put vulnerable children, often victims of the most severe forms of abuse, at risk says the largest provider of mediation and dispute resolution services in Australia and New Zealand, Resolution Institute.

The Family Court represented a specialised court, as an integral part of the Australian Family Law system, that focused on dealing with highly emotive issues. The court moved away from the more adversarial system of traditional courts between two adults and towards one that offers court support, referrals and mediation to the whole family, with a special focus on improving the lives of children.

Family law has always been a difficult and sensitive area, where situations are complex, emotions are strong, and a simple 'guilty' or 'not guilty' verdict is almost never adequate. The Family Court is designed to put the interests of children first and this merger seriously jeopardises that.

The Family Court has also allowed lawyers to specialise in family law, moving from solicitors, to barristers and eventually judges equipped with years of on-the-ground experience about  the complexities, subtleties and challenges of family law cases. Although ensuring a minimum number of specialist family law judges is a step in the right direction, merging the court into an already strained Federal Circuit Court risks causing even more overwork for each judge.

The majority of cases that come before the Family Court present with issues of family violence, which requires a specialist response from highly skilled practitioners and judicial staff. There is enormous concern about how these matters will be dealt with in the future.  

The idea of such complex family law matters being constrained to just one of the 70 cases heard by a typical Federal Circuit Court judge on a daily basis all before 10am is alarming at best. Put simply, overburdening family law specialist judges in a similar manner risks turning the court into yet another litigation lottery.

The Family Court was legislated in 1975 with the aim of easing tensions and improving outcomes for troubled families. The methods used to achieve this goal have evolved and expanded throughout its history, with breakthrough reforms such as independent children’s lawyers and compulsory Family Dispute Resolution before proceeding to court where appropriate.  

The Family Court’s more mediation-oriented approach not only leads to more objectively better outcomes, but it means that all those involved had greater opportunity to be heard.

About Resolution Institute

Resolution Institute is the largest dispute resolution membership organisation across Australia and New Zealand, with over 3000 mediators, arbitrators, adjudicators, conciliators, restorative justice practitioners, and other dispute resolution professionals as its members. It supports its members through providing educational tools, networking opportunities and access to robust accreditation and grading systems. 

Please direct media queries to:

Sean Brogan
Public Affairs Manager, (Australia and New Zealand)
Phone: +61 2 9251 3366