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The Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into the Family Law System: What did it find?

Madison Kelly, ||

In March 2019, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its final report of the Inquiry into the Family Law system, which was tabled at Parliament on 10 April, 2019. The Inquiry was commissioned in order to identify and address the current issues plaguing Australia’s family law framework and the families that find themselves a part of it.

The issues, in essence, are that:

  • The system is not adequately assisting separated couples to resolve their disputes;
  • Children (and more broadly those who experience family violence) are not sufficiently protected from harm;
  • Disputes are prolonged due to delays resulting from a lack of Court resources, as well as the behaviour of parties to the proceedings who are incapable or averse to resolving their dispute efficiently and amicably; and,
  • The body of law underpinning the Court system (in the context of its repeated amendments) is no longer clear to understand.

The Inquiry, which began in September 2017, included more than 1,200 written submissions and 179 consultations, and whilst it is not the first review into the family law system, it is considered to be the first that is entirely comprehensive. The ALRC also received close to 800 confidential stories about the community’s experience of the family law system through its confidential portal, ‘Tell Us Your Story’.

The Report made 60 recommendations based on the following 11 key areas to improve:

  1. Closing the Jurisdictional Gap;
  2. Children’s Matters;
  3. A Simplified Approach to Property Division;
  4. Encouraging Amicable Resolution;
  5. Arbitration;
  6. Case Managements: Efficiency and Accountability;
  7. Compliance with Children’s Orders;
  8. Support Services in the Courts;
  9. Building Accountability and Transparency;
  10. Legislative Clarity; and,
  11. Secondary Interventions.

The most significant recommendation is that of abolishing the federal family law system in replacement of a state-based system. The ALRC recommends that ‘new’ family courts be established in each state and territory which have jurisdiction to make orders under both the federal Family Law Act as well as state and territory child protection and family violence legislation.

Justice Sarah Derrington, the ALRC president, said “These recommendations seek to ensure families have access to a dignified and efficient process that resolves disputes effectively and at the lowest cost financially, emotional and psychologically, while also giving primacy to the interests and safety of children affected by those disputes.”

Whether the Australian Government will implement the recommendations made by the ALRC is still unknown however, we will inform you of any updates.

For more information on the Inquiry, please contact our experienced Family Law team.


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