Cou­ples fall through cracks in law sys­tem

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - MADURA MCCOR­MACK

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

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