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Family Law Review Of 2016 & Forecast For 2017

Family Law

We’re at that time of year when families have recently celebrated Christmas and the New Year and it’s time to start afresh, making this year better than the previous one. Children are getting ready to go back to school and parents are returning to work.

Unfortunately, for some separated parents, another year passes without seeing their children, and for people undergoing property settlements, this is the year it will hopefully get finalised. People are generally optimistic at this time of year. But should people with family law issues be feeling optimistic?

This year, 2017, looms on the family law radar for a number of reasons, most importantly there are state elections in Queensland and Western Australia.

In recent times, the Queensland government has pushed an agenda for the prevention of Domestic Violence and made some changes to the Child Protection laws. But as family law is primarily dealt with at a Commonwealth level, legislation to address the perceived crisis in the Family Court and Child Support reforms may not be forthcoming from the Federal Government. However, the result of the state elections may just be the “wake-up call” the government needs.

Review of 2016

Last year saw another year of frustrated families left without adequate judicial resources to address their cases. In fact, the situation over the past 12 months has only deteriorated and the stress on families requiring court time and judicial attention has escalated to the point where cases can take up to two years for a judge to make a final determination. This is a conservative timeframe when you consider there are many cases which have already been in the system for upwards of four years.

In March 2016, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Diana Bryant made a plea to the government for more resources to assist in resolving cases, including more appointments of family law judges. This call for assistance went unanswered. In October 2016, the Attorney General speaking at the National Family Law Conference advised that there would be no further funding to the family law courts.

With many judges retiring without successors being appointed, less judges have meant more cases are being left in legal limbo waiting for a determination, with children being estranged from parents and decisions regarding financial settlements becoming irrelevant due to the passage in time passed and legal costs expended.

The desire to have an overhaul of the Child Support system has also risen as being a more concerning issue for parents in the last 12 months. On both sides of the debate parents are pushing for change. Parents who are returned service veterans and disability support pensioners are complaining about child support taking their pensions. There was recently a case of a digger who was medically discharged from the army and 70% of their superannuation was being garnished by the Child Support Agency. 

Other parents have advised me that they feel like a cash cow, restricted to working all the time while the other parent stays at home, even with school aged children and purely for the reason they have no desire to work. I have also heard disgruntled parents complain that the current formula for child support encourages the other parent not to work. For example, the income received from a part-time job compared with the difference that will result in the reduction of child support would not justify that parent working, particularly with other associated costs such as child care.

Parents are calling for household income to be assessed, which is currently not the case. There is a certain level of resentment felt by a parent paying child support to the other parent who has re-partnered into a wealthy situation whilst continuing to be treated as a single parent for child support purposes.

On the other side of the debate, parents complain about the reluctance of the CSA to investigate self-employed people. Family Trusts and cash in hand workers, only paying minimal child support but seemingly asset rich through their businesses. The ATO know all about this but cunning accountants are one step ahead of the game and doing everything by the rules. Despite these issues intensifying in 2016, there was no commitment by the government to overhaul the child support system which is disappointing.

I will finish this review with a family law highlight for 2016, which was the opening of the regional family law registry in Rockhampton. Not only will this allow central Queenslanders better access to justice but it will help improve access to family law services in general. I would like to see regional registries open in all the major centres, including both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, and other areas such as Toowoomba. I would also like to see the appointment of resident Judges to handle matters locally on a daily basis and a commitment to circuiting to regional and remote areas. There is little relevance to a court that is inaccessible to people who live several hundred kilometres away.

2017 – What to Expect?

While the pending state elections could lead to some developments in family law, it may be precarious given the budgetary constraints and the cut spending attitude which is generally targeted at individuals on a social level.

In Queensland, we’re likely to see the continued emphasis on domestic violence prevention and a continued overhaul of the process for approval of foster carers in Queensland, given Tiahleigh Palmer’s case with possibly an external review of the Department of Child Safety.

Same-sex marriage, which came to a stalemate in 2016, is also unlikely, but the debate will flare up again at some point during 2017.

Let’s see what happens, and perhaps given the climate for change globally, 2017 will indeed see some much-needed improvements and resources injected into the family law system.

If you have any family law matters, or even just questions relating to separation, talk to the Family Lawyers at Adams Wilson Lawyers today.

For residents of New South Wales please contact our Sydney Office on 02 9358 5822

For residents of Queensland please contact our Gold Coast Office on 07 5593 0277