Law reforms welcomed
RECENT changes to family courts are the “most significant” reform to the family law system in more than two decades, an experienced Townsville lawyer says.
Keir Steele Waldon family law specialist Lucia Taylor said the amalgamation of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia was a “long time coming”.
From Wednesday the newly formed Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia began its operation. There is now a streamlined approach and a single point of entry to family law proceedings for the first time.
While the public might not notice exactly what changed, Mrs Taylor said people would reap the benefits, from reduced delays to less conflict and confusion.
The proposal to bring together the two courts was highly criticised and opposed by more than 150 stakeholders, including 13 retired judges, who in an open letter argued the merger served “only to undermine” the need for separate and specialised courts.
Then attorney-general Christian Porter said the merger would result in a simpler, faster, cheaper system when the change was legislated. Despite criticism from many in the industry, Mrs Taylor said the changes would better equip lawyers to support their clients through some of the most emotional times of their life.
With more than 30 years’ experience in family law, Mrs Taylor said lengthy delays, bureaucracy and a confusing system made it harder for people navigating the courts.
In smaller regional centres like Townsville, Mrs Taylor said, people tended to push most of their matters through the Federal Circuit Court.
“What was meant to be a court primarily for fairly simple and uncomplicated matters became a court that people went to for the majority of matters,” she said.
“It has become a court that has grown exponentially.
“So many people have had bad experiences in the court.”
She believes the amalgamation will change this.
“The changes result in a more hands-on and responsive court experience for all.
”(It) will provide a more streamlined and consistent treatment of matters from the very start.”
The new combined court is modelled on the idea of changing the conversation about family law in search of a smarter way for families to separate without the stress and expense of protracted litigation.
Mrs Taylor said from the get-go there would be an emphasis on helping parties settle disputes, where it is safe to do so, rather than fighting things out in a courtroom.
The new court model will also introduce provisions to respond to increasing rates of family violence through early identification of vulnerable parties.
“This now streamlines and tailors court procedures to ensure parties and children’s safety are paramount,” Mrs Taylor said.