Couples fall through cracks in law system
TOWNSVILLE couples trying to navigate a cripplingly complicated family court system are being forced to fend for themselves in increasingly clogged courtrooms, a leading solicitor has said.
An “undercurrent” of people self- representing in complex family law matters because they are falling through the legal aid gap is arguably one of the largest issues being faced by the family court system in Townsville.
Lucia Taylor, senior family lawyer at Townsville- based firm Purcell Taylor, said that while the Federal Circuit Court in Townsville was “overwhelmed” and needed an extra judge to service the area, the city was “somewhat overlooked” by the Federal Government when it came to court funding needs. Her comments come as the Australian Law Reform Commission released its 357- page report.
Ordered by the Federal Government, the ALRC discussion paper and the proposed amalgamation of the two courts is considered the largest shake- up of family law in a generation.
Mrs Taylor welcomed the overhaul.
“It is a long time coming that’s for sure, we have two courts running and it’s just double administration,” she said. “When I first started practising there was one court, the Family Court, and then for political reasons it was split into two, and it was purely for political reasons and it grew and grew and now they are operating parallel almost.
“I think the Family Law Act needs updating … It was revolutionary in 1975. It needs updating to come up to speed with the rest of the country in the way we litigate.”
She said legal aid services also needed to be changed, as people continued to fall through the gaps.
“Can you imagine representing yourself in a family law matter? It’s just a recipe for disaster,” she said.
“You go there and so many people turn up, and they’re not lawyers, so they don’t know what they’re doing.
“They’re so emotionally invested, so they can’t step back as we can as professionals.”
Townsville family law specialist Peter Logan, of firm Connolly Suthers, welcomed the overhaul but said there were concerns the reform was being rushed.
“The concern is that there hasn’t been enough consultation and time,” he said.
“The lawyers are saying, let’s slow this down, we all want to achieve the same result, if it takes more time to get it right, then that’s worth it.”
Submissions to the ALRC report close on November 13, but Mr Logan said realistically this should take a few more months or longer for proper consultation and ensuing changes to be done right.
The ALRC report recommends judges grant custody based on the “safety and best interests” of children instead of assuming shared care.
It also recommended judges consider the impact of family violence on victims when dividing property in divorce cases. The final report is due to be tabled by March 31 next year.
CAN YOU IMAGINE REPRESENTING YOURSELF IN A FAMILY LAW MATTER? IT’S JUST A RECIPE FOR DISASTER. LUCIA TAYLOR