How to avoid delays in the Family Court system31-August-2017 Family Law By Mel Collins
The Federal Circuit Court, which incorporates Family Law cases, continues to experience extreme delays. Financial matters filed today in the Sydney Registry are unlikely to receive a final outcome until 2019 or later. It is virtually impossible to have your matter heard by a judge on an urgent interim basis, except for the most desperate parenting or financial matters. Even parenting cases are experiencing significant delays, with a nine-month wait for a Family Report from the Court’s counselling services.
A Family Report is generally required before a case can be listed for final hearing, as it provides the judge with independent evidence of the family dynamics and the views of the children. Delays in the Parramatta and Wollongong Registries of the Federal Circuit Court are even longer. Recently, one judge remarked in Court that by the time the case he was reviewing received a final hearing, the orders the parties sought would be irrelevant, given the age of the child by that time.
“This situation is clearly unacceptable to the families stuck within the system,” Streeterlaw’s Simone Green said. “Many of the cases currently before the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court do not belong there. The vast majority of cases will settle long before a final hearing before the judge; unfortunately after spending many months or years in litigation at great emotional and financial expense.”
The good news is that even if a matter is already in the Court system, it is not too late to explore private alternatives such as mediation and arbitration, especially if all of the financial evidence is prepared. The other side are often much more likely to explore these options after the matter has not progressed in the system and their legal expenses are mounting. The judges regularly order parties to attend mediation in an attempt to get quicker outcomes.
With a properly structured legally-assisted mediation (where your lawyers are present), relevant third parties, such as accountants, financial planners and even psychologists or family therapists for parenting matters if relevant, are allowed to attend. This professional input can assist the parties to reach a negotiated settlement.
Arbitration differs from mediation in that it is a court-like process, where a judgment is delivered by an independent person after hearing the evidence. The judgment can then be entered in Court and is binding. Arbitrators are generally skilled barristers who regularly appear before the Family Courts. This is a good option if parties have the available funds.