Visualising a client-centred family law system

Visualising a client-centred family law system

The Australian Law Reform Commission this week released its Discussion Paper on its Review of the Family Law System. The Paper distils the wisdom of research about and submissions from and consultations with professionals and recent users of the system.

The Discussion Paper paints a vision of a client-centred family law system premised on an evidence-based public health framework. Adopting the perspective of users of the system, it recommends changes to simplify and clarify information and legislation, facilitate easier access into and navigation through the system, and to enable service and professional collaborations to provide separating, often vulnerable, families with affordable options to address their difficulties and support their safety and wellbeing.

A client centred approach requires that family law professionals work differently. Collaboratively. In partnership. In ‘order to respond to families in a flexible and person-centred way.’ Some do this well already, and examples in the Discussion Paper illustrate the value of this approach.

One proposal to achieve this is to establish community-based, first-door Families Hubs comprising workers from a ‘range of local services, including legal assistance services, family relationships services, specialist family violence services, financial counselling and housing assistance services, and specialist services for children and young people.’

Family Dispute Resolution

My area of interest and expertise is in relation to dispute resolution. The Discussion Paper proposes to require parties to attempt FDR in appropriate property disputes, entailing full and frank disclosure, and mediation under the shadow of the property provisions of the Family Law Act (which are also proposed to be clarified).

The Paper also recommends the extension of Legally Assisted Dispute Resolution (LADR) in which lawyers, mediators and other professionals support parties, often with complex needs, to manage their disputes.

Such changes will require many FDR practitioners (and other professionals) to extend their knowledge and skills, appropriate mediation models and practice guidelines to be developed, and funding options identified to enable such expansion of FDR and legal services.

Further suggested systemic changes to information sharing, workforce capability, quality and wellbeing, and system oversight and evaluation will also impact FDR.

Children’s right to be heard

One significant child-centred proposal is to create an explicit right for children to be heard in family dispute resolution (and in court proceedings) about them. Child inclusive mediation is one way to achieve this. Including children’s voices and perspectives safely in FDR as the norm requires shifts to current FDR practice and models, expansion of the workforce of child consultants who currently facilitate this process, and consideration of how this will be funded.

Workshop to discuss the ALRC’s proposals

Given the significance of these proposals, and the ALRC’s invitation for further contribution from family law professionals, the Resolution Institute’s NSW FDR Special Interest Group is hosting a workshop to discuss the proposals relevant to FDR on Tuesday evening 9 October in Sydney. You are warmly invited to attend. Please register ASAP.

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