Family courts in crisis12-February-2016 Family Law By Simone Green
Backlog of cases in under-resourced Family Courts
Massive delays are now being experienced in the Family Court System as retiring judges in the Family Courts and Federal Circuit Courts are not being replaced.
Currently the Wollongong Registry of the Family Court has no sitting Family Court judge, meaning that those cases must be heard in the Parramatta, Sydney or Canberra registries. The one sitting Federal Circuit Court judge in the Wollongong Registry may be moved to the Sydney registry unless further judges are appointed, as the load is too great for one judge. The Sydney Registry of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court are already under significant strain. It is common that cases wait up to two years for a final hearing date. The Parramatta registry is also under threat of closure due to a shortage of judges.
The definition of ‘urgent’ matters has also seen a marked change in recent years. While parenting matters still take precedence over property matters in terms of waiting times, the wait time for parenting matters to be heard on a final basis can also exceed 18 months. There is no doubt that the current system is failing children and families.
Streeterlaw solicitor Simone Green, a Family Law Accredited Specialist, says given the delays of the court system, it is imperative that separated couples use alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation (including lawyer assisted mediation), round table conferencing or arbitration wherever possible to achieve an out-of-court settlement.
“Using an alternative method is faster and more cost effective,” Ms Green said. “When an agreement is reached, it can be documented with an Application for Consent Orders (heard by a Registrar in a matter of days or weeks), or a Financial Agreement (private contract).
“Parenting matters can also be settled by consent and if Orders are desired to reflect that agreement, can also be submitted to the Family Court by way of an Application for Consent Orders, requiring no court attendance.
“At Streeterlaw, we work with our clients to ensure the best outcome is achieved through negotiated settlements, wherever possible. We encourage the early exchange of financial information to allow the creation of balance sheets to assist the process of discussions on financial settlement; and in more complex financial matters, we work together with accountants and other relevant professionals to provide comprehensive advice and support to the client.
“We regularly work with mediators to settle matters that result in Consent Orders.”