Family Law Council Final Report

At the National Family Law Conference on 19 October 2016 the Attorney-General released the Reports on Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection Systems (Terms of Reference 3,4 and 5).

The first two terms of reference (transferring matters between State and Commonwealth jurisdictions and benefits of family courts being able to exercise powers of state courts and vice versa) were reported on in 2015 (follow link here).

In the June 2016 report three terms of reference concerned opportunities to enhance collaboration within the family law system, family relationship services, other relevant support services such as mental health, child protection etc and any limitations in the data currently available to inform the terms of reference.

In it’s report the Family Law Council made 22 recommendations relevantly;

  • Very few matters move to a state children’s court from a family court where child protection notifications have arisen
  • Separation of jurisdictions (i.e family courts, family violence and child protection systems) create several difficulties requiring a more coordinated approach
  • Increased collaboration was important and this could be accommodated through funding family violence services to carry families through the state proceedings across to the family court proceedings
  • Embedding specialist family violence workers in family courts
  • Creating a dedicated family safety service within the family law system
  • Establishing an early whole-of-family risk assessment process
  • Legislative change and/or the development of protocols to facilitate the making of orders for observational or assessment reports from post-separation parenting programs and men's behaviour change programs where a party is ordered to attend.
  • Integrating services of the family courts and family relationship sector
  • The Australian Government should explore the viability and benefits of a Counsel Assisting model to assist the courts in cases where one or both parties is self-represented and issues of family violence or other safety concerns for children have been identified.
  • Support for rural and regional areas
  • The Australian Government exploring through COAG or LCCSC the possibilities for increased circuiting or out-posting of Federal Circuit Court judges and registry staff in state and territory magistrates courts, including specialist family violence courts.
  • A family violence accreditation for family report writers and legal practitioners who practice family law.
  • That the word ‘imminent’ be removed from s 10H(4)(b) of the Family Law Act to encourage family dispute resolution practitioners to disclose information if they reasonably believe there is ‘a serious threat to the life or health of a person’ regardless of its imminence.
  • In the June 2015 report the FLC recommended state courts be provided with a measure of co-extensive jurisdiction with family courts. In the June 2016 report the Council recommended inclusion of property jurisdiction (limited by a monetary threshold).
  • Tailored services for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • A comprehensive review of Part VII of the FLA with a view to ensuring child safety is prioritized and to support expeditious decision-making.