Australia’s family law courts are implementing a new ‘profound shift’ in the methods and practices of family law litigation. To move disputing families out of the over-crowded court system, whilst continuing to maintain and provide support, two initiatives are being piloted.
A push from the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to resolve matters via Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) forms the primary initiative. ADR aims to benefit families who may be able to resolve their matter (or at least narrow the issues in dispute), to meet to explore the prospects of reaching an agreement and in turn, enabling them to exit the family law system.
Secondly, the Lighthouse Project (a program that utilises an interactive online tool) will triage cases within the Courts and will direct families to specific services, including police and child welfare authorities. The tool keeps the questionnaire results confidential from the Judge and Registrar, however, will attempt to identify those cases of high priority who require specialist resources, and those that can be referred to ADR.
Provided those victim to family violence can access resources to overcome power imbalances and those matters requiring an urgent determination are not delayed as a consequence of the above initiatives, this approach taken by the family law courts is needed. In the Sydney registry of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, as at time of publishing this article, there is approximately a five (5) month delay in having a matter listed for a Mention Hearing before a Judge.