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Society left to pay for broken family law system

Michael Weaver 22 September 2019 9
Family Court

The ABS says 49,032 divorces were granted in Australia in 2017 (1299 in the ACT). Photo: Region Media.

On 1 July this year, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia announced an increase in the fees they charge to bring a case to the court. The fee increases were modest, of between $5 and $20 for most items. A divorce now costs $1290.

And why not? The fee you pay is obviously the one part of the system that isn’t broken. The real costs are to society.

These are the costs of getting a judge to a regional area like Lismore in northern NSW, or Wagga Wagga or Dubbo in the west, or even Canberra, where the backlog of cases needing a judge to preside is at an all-time high.

There are costs for parents who do not see their children despite waiting years for a judge to hear their case.

There are costs in paying child support to a parent without access to the children.

There are costs when orders come through enforcing access but the other parent fails to show.

And then there’s the Child Support Agency, a misnomer if ever there was one.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 49,032 divorces were granted in Australia in 2017 (1299 in the ACT), an increase of 2,428 (5.0%) from the 46,604 divorces granted in 2016.

So that extra $5-20 definitely adds up.

It also adds to the ‘divorce industry’ that I am reliably told is worth $34 billion a year.

These are for the costs of lawyers who charge at least $300 an hour, for psychological evaluations or $6000 just to get a court transcript of the words used by one parent in an attempt to damage the other.

If the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court were a business, it could easily be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. It’s just a pity that the only ones with any money to buy shares would be those who feathered their nest in the first place on the misery of others.

I am also reliably told of one parent who has spent $263,000 and is still fighting in the Family Court to regularly see children that were once raised in a loving marriage.

When firefighters found the bodies of a Canberra mother and her two children after a house fire at their Bonner home on the morning of 19 February last year, it was revealed the mother had been due to attend a Family Court hearing that same morning in relation to a child custody matter.

There is the story of Aaron Cockman from Western Australia, whose four children, ex-wife and mother-in-law were shot dead by Aaron’s former father-in-law at the family home near Margaret River on 11 May 2018. When his marriage ended, Aaron hoped for a system of counselling, coaching, mediation and community support. What he got was lawyers and a frightening, unaffordable family court system.

I met Aaron when he came to Canberra last year to lobby for sweeping changes to the family law system. I’ll never forget what he told me: “To say the system is broken would mean it was working to begin with”.

What he said is at the heart of why the Government’s most recent 660-page review into the family law system, the proposal to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court and the latest enquiry are little more than a bandaid on a gaping wound.

The Attorney-General’s Department estimates that these structural reforms will improve the efficiency of the system by up to a third, with the potential to allow up to an extra 8000 cases to be resolved each year. This is a long-awaited step in the right direction.

The issue is not a gender-based one. It is not about angry fathers or vexatious mothers. Indeed, there are many more parents who amicably separate and maintain loving relationships with their children.

But it is littered with loving parents who seek to engage in mediation but find themselves in a system that allows false allegations and even perjury to run rife.

It is why changes in 2008 to the family law system make family dispute resolution a requirement before you can apply to the court for a parenting order.

According to the Attorney-General’s Department, divorces involving children represented 46.9 per cent of all divorces granted in 2016. The number of children involved in divorces totalled 40,202.

The great irony is that the current family law system ultimately hurts the very people it’s designed to protect – the children.


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9 Responses to Society left to pay for broken family law system
Richard Hentworth Richard Hentworth 6:56 pm 23 Sep 19

Happened to me on Friday and judge just ignored it. Last year in family court her affidavit discussed all eight types of abuse in brief sentences and then had 19 of 20 attachments discussing money. We've had 22 court cases she made with interim orders and amendment hearings in two years. Taxpayers pay for it. Our daughter gets asked all sorts of questions and proving the mother wrong means nothing.

I'm really shocked the public discussion of false allegations isn't linked to government welfare percentages. Without the right care percentage, the mother's income drops. More surprisingly is I keep proving the mother works and doesn't pay tax on nine of post ten years but no one cares, I just have to pay more child support and bear cost of swaps for her work schedule I'm now refusing to do.

Bek Clark Bek Clark 5:24 pm 23 Sep 19

The old “prolific false allegations” chestnut.

Hmmm. Can we see the undoctored data on that pls?

    Kathy Price Kathy Price 5:25 pm 24 Sep 19

    I have undoctored data. Why do you think its doctored??? We have had false allegations proved wrong by the actual police reports. "Mother is trying to use the system to obtain an AVO" Plus an independent investigation by Integroe an agency that investigates not for profit groups - in this case a domestic violence group. We will be going public as the system IS broken. Fathers can't afford to go to the expense to fight to see their children against this system so kids are growing up without their fathers. Please understand fathers love our children too. You have to go through it to know how it is. We have done nothing wrong - just want to love and support our children.

James Forge James Forge 1:04 pm 23 Sep 19

Horrible useless place. After years and many $$ I still don't see my kids because "shared parenting" was ordered after it was proven and written that my ex wife is a completely unreasonable person.

Shared parenting meant that she got to decide when the kids saw me which of course is never.

All I can do is wait for the karma bus to run right over her.

Jennifer Jones Jennifer Jones 10:36 am 23 Sep 19

A big question for me is why the Court is so unwilling to enforce its own Orders. They come up with a long list or Orders about how and when each parent is assured shared access and responsibilities and a great list of penalties for breaching the orders, but if one party breaches the orders, repeatedly even, the only way for the other to attempt to have the Orders complied with is through expensive, stressful, and very time consuming private representation to which the magistrate gets very irate and insulting with the proponent and accuses her of wasting the Court's time. Where is the accessible mechanism to ensure Orders are complied with? Legal Aid won't touch it, especially if they have to run cases like Winchester at the same time.

gooterz 9:13 am 23 Sep 19

Even worse when you find the system is also filled with corrupt individuals.

Also if they got rid of no reprocussions false evidence, all parents might actually try to get along.
On the balance its easier for one parent to try and get the lions share of time/responsibility to devoid themselves of having to deal with someone else they didnt agree with/ divorced already.

Lyn Kemp Lyn Kemp 8:09 am 23 Sep 19

More magistrates are needed urgently instead of ONE magistrate handling THREE cases at the one time!!! It's been known that due to overwork they have made wrong decisions by total confusion. Another enquiry not needed to work this out!!

Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 7:23 am 23 Sep 19

I have nothing against an inquiry (even though one was held not long ago with recommendations yet to be implemented) nor even against Pauline being involved. Hell, she can advocate all she wants and put submissions in but a person who so obviously has an agenda shouldn't be occupying the position of chairperson. The inherent bias doesn't inspire confidence in any outcome that may result.

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