Family law review will consider whether court cases are too distressing for children

The Australian Law Reform Commission will undertake the most comprehensive review of the family law system since 1976, in a review announced by the Turnbull government on Thursday.

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Attorney-General George Brandis said the review was “necessary and long-overdue”.

The government has ordered the independent commission to undertake the review, beginning on October 1. It will be led by Professor Helen Rhoades.

“Australian families and their needs have significantly evolved since the 1970s,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.

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The review will examine the adversarial nature of family law cases – including divorce and custody disputes.

Senator Brandis said he did not want to prejudice the outcomes of the review and would not offer his personal views.

‘There is certainly a body of opinion among family law practitioners that the adversarial mode in which family law proceedings are conducted is not the perfect model,” he told the ABC.

“It’s always better that disputes be resolved by mediation rather than by litigation, particularly though when they concern intimate relationships, people at a fraught and despairing time of their lives.”

The review will also consider how the system can better support families, reduce legal costs and resolve cases more quickly.

The Australian Law Council welcomed the wholesale review but warned that any meaningful, long-term reform needed significant funding.

 

President Fiona McLeod said resourcing had not kept up with the increase in the number and complexity of family law cases.

“The Law Council looks forward to contributing to this review, however we note that any significant recommendations for reform will not be able to be implemented without corresponding funding,” she said in a statement.

Labor also welcomed the review, but also called for “urgent action” before the review is completed.

“The government has still not announced any funding to facilitate an end to domestic violence survivors being cross-examined by their abusers in court,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement.

“None of these problems can afford to wait until the report’s due date in 2019.”

The ALRC has been given until March 31 in 2019 to report back.