20 May The Biggest Change in Family Law in the Last 40 Years
Hidden away in the latest budget was a review of the Family Court system. Funding was given to establish the Parenting Management Hearings – a new decision-making body for self-represented litigants.
The Attorney General George Brandis has released details of the first comprehensive review of the family law system in more than 40 years.
The proposed plan includes spending $12.7 million to create Parenting Management Hearings – designed to simplify family law disputes between self-represented litigants. Unlike the traditional system where two opposing sides present their cases, those managing the hearings will run inquiries and gather evidence to inform their decisions.
It will initially be rolled out in Parramatta but there are plans to open up multiple sites across Australia.
There are huge backlogs of cases that are waiting to be dealt with by the family courts. In some courts, people have to wait for 3 years before they can be heard by a judge.
Advocates are nervous about the new PMH’s, as the parties are not allowed lawyers and will not know their legal rights and what they’re entitled to.
The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, accused the government of “an extraordinary outsourcing of government policy”, and said the hearings weren’t an answer to the problems of the family courts.
“What’s being set up here is a different decision-making process under the Family Law act. In order for that to occur there would need to be amendments to the act conferring jurisdiction for this new dispute resolution mechanism.”
He said there were already dispute resolution mechanisms, like mediation, which was a consensual process.
Dreyfus and the Law Council of Australia have expressed concerns about the federal government’s proposal, including that parents wouldn’t have legal representation in a quasi-judicial setting, particularly in cases which involve domestic violence.
The PMH will be an opt-in program, allowing parents to choose whether they would like their matter to be heard by the traditional court system or not.