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Nov 062013

JUDGMENT delays in Australia’s cash-strapped family court system have blown out further as judges move to tackle the rising number of cases involving family violence in Australia.

With the Abbott Government foreshadowing $30 million in cuts to the family courts over the next four years, the outlook remains bleak for those families waiting for an outcome.

According to the latest annual reports on the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court, applications involving family violence have soared to 15 per cent to 403 in the past year.

Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant believes the five per cent jump in applications for final orders involving a family violence notice is due to its definition being widened in last year’s changes to the Family Law Act.

Reports of abuse and violence had been in steady decline in the four years leading up to the reforms.

But new 28-day deadlines for dealing with the matters have had “significant impact” on court resources.

“The requirement of the court to find further efficiencies means that we must continue to look for ways to reduce costs, despite many years of implementing numbers savings initiatives,” Justice Bryant said.

“Considering that the courts have undergone a relentless number of reviews all seeking to identify ways to reduce costs, the reality is that there are very limited reductions to be made without having a serious impact on service delivery, particularly given that more than half of the Family Court’s costs are fixed such as salaries for judicial officers and property expenses.”

A total of $12.2 million in wages was shared among the 30 judges of the Family Court in the last financial year, according to the report.

Justice Bryant said the role of the court was being reduced to a “smaller court which manages all appeals and deals with the most complex famil law cases”.

While the court boasts a high clearance rate for cases, there remains a significant number of cases still awaiting judgment after two years.

Figures showed 11 per cent of litigants still had no judgment after a two-year wait, with 49 per cent of cases waiting for more than three months.

The court met only three out of seven KPIs, failing to deliver on promised final and interim order targets.

A total of 3,067 final orders and 3,419 interim orders were handed down.

The majority of cases settled before final judgment, with 14.6 per cent needed a judgment.

Property disputes were the most common – a total of 52 per cent of all cases requiring a ruling.

Meanwhile, the number of appeals fell 13 per cent to 326, with a slight increase in males (60 per cent) over females (37 per cent) seeking to overturn decisions.

The caseload is in stark contrast to the “workhorse” Federal Circuit Court, which litigated 89,599 cases.

The work was shared between 64 judges, including 23 females and 41 males.

They met two of performance goals, with less than one per cent of matters litigated being subject to complaint (0.19 per cent) and 60 per cent resolved before trial.

But the court fell short of a deadline of six months in 90 per cent of cases being finalised, managing only an 83 per cent completion rate.

A total of 172 complaints were also lodged, including 81 for late judgments.

Mar 072010


AN EXPLOSION in online romances is making the toughest Family Court issue even tougher, with more divorcees than ever wanting to move their children interstate or overseas to be with a new partner.

March 7, 2010

A world-first study of 80 parents involved in relocation disputes shows online dating is having a devastating impact on already-broken homes, putting an average distance of 1646 kilometres between children and the parent left behind.

Parents are being bankrupted, selling their homes, losing contact with their children or travelling long distances only to have visitation rights denied.

The average legal cost for settled divorces is $50,000, and $75,000 for court cases.

Results of the study suggest some parents are not upfront about new relationships when they go to court asking to relocate their children.

University of Sydney researchers have been following 40 men and 40 women involved in 71 relocation cases since 2006. They say the growth of internet romances is combining with a rise in broken relationships, increases in international mobility and the tyranny of distances in Australia to make relocation a more vexed issue than ever.

”Internet-based introduction services have radically increased the opportunities for separated parents to meet new people, and the connections thus formed are supported by very cheap modes of communication such as email, internet ‘chat’ programs, and web-based telephone or video communication,” Professor Patrick Parkinson, Associate Professor Judy Cashmore and Judi Single wrote in an article for US journal Family Law Quarterly.

While less than a quarter of women surveyed said they wanted to move due to a new relationship, about a third of men believed it was a factor in their ex-partner’s decision. ”The fathers’ accounts indicated the possibility that in certain cases the existence of a new partner might not have been disclosed to the court,” the authors wrote.

The legal costs of relocating often reached hundreds of thousands of dollars and the costs of maintaining contact with children were as much as $15,000 a year.

This led the authors to urge lawyers and judges to test if the moves were realistic before encouraging them.

Relocation disputes are ”the San Andreas fault of family law”, according to former Family Court judge Richard Chisholm. They are the most difficult decisions judges must make.

The disputes end in expensive court cases more than any other family law matter, with 59 per cent decided by a judge (four times the general rate). And it is almost always the mother who wants to move, making gender a major issue in the debate.

A High Court decision last week swung the pendulum slightly back in favour of parents wanting to relocate.

In a high-profile case code-named ”Rosa v Rosa”, a mother had been forced to remain in a Queensland caravan park, depressed and living on welfare payments, after she moved there from Sydney for her husband’s mining career and they separated. The High Court said the decision was wrong and ordered a fresh hearing.

Judges will have to ask whether an arrangement is ”practicable” before they can make orders for equal time in future.

About 23,000 divorces, half involving children, are granted in Australia each year.

Jul 252009

Michael B is one of a small number of Australian fathers who has a 50-50 shared parenting arrangement with his six-year-old son after divorce.

It did not come easy.

“I had to fight for every bit of time we spend together,” Mr B said yesterday.

“I had to pay a lawyer $400 an hour. In all, it cost $10,000. But if I hadn’t fought, I would have ended up with one weekend a fortnight, and I was so close to my son I couldn’t let that happen.”

Mr B, who cannot be identified because his son is subject to Family Court orders, said he met his former wife in a South American country while he was working as an engineer there and earning good money.

“She was from the slums,” he said. “She had nothing, but that didn’t matter to me.”

Before long, she was pregnant. The couple’s son was born abroad.

“I brought her back to Australia when he was six months old, and we went through the whole thing of getting her a visa,” Mr B said.

“For the first year we lived with my parents, my boy’s grandparents, in their luxury home.

“Then we got our own place. I had by then assets of nearly a million dollars, and then when my boy was nearly three years old I came home, and the place was empty.

“She’d gone, and taken him with her, and there was a lawyer’s letter on the table saying she can’t live with me any more, and she’s the primary carer, so she’s taken my son.”

Mr B believes he was a good husband and father, and that his relationship with his son was strong, loving and important.

He said his ex-wife during their marriage had taken up Latin American dancing, and was tutoring and dancing at a salsa school three nights a week, “so I was working full-time and coming home at night and caring for our son, while she was dancing”.

He said she also took English lessons and a TAFE course, during which time their son was in childcare. “I couldn’t believe that her lawyer was saying that I wasn’t an equal parent,” he said.

“I believe I did all the right things.”

Mr B said he was accused in court of being “a bad husband, a bad father” and he believes that were it not for the Howard government’s shared parenting laws, which require the Family Court to presume that a child’s best interests are served by having a “meaningful” relationship with both parents after separation, he would not have been given any responsibility for his son, let alone equal time.

“He (the boy) spends Monday and Tuesday with his mum, and Wednesdays and Thursdays with me, and weekends we swap,” Mr B said. “We’re incredibly close and it has got to the point where I can communicate with (his ex) about him in a good way.

“When I think that we could go back to the old days, where fathers just got screwed, the more I can’t believe it.”

The Australian was not able to reach Mr B’s former wife for comment.

By Caroline Overington,25197,25832216-5013404,00.html