What is the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee Inquiry into the Australian Family Law System?

At the behest of the Australian Federal Government, the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System was appointed by resolution of the Senate on 18 September 2019 and resolution of the House of Representatives on 19 September 2019.

The Committee’s Terms of Reference include consideration of the following areas:

  • Granting of Domestic Violence Orders and apprehended violence orders
  • Perjury, Non-Compliance, and Enforcement
  • The Impact of the Family Law System on the Safety and Wellbeing of Families
  • Efficiency of the Family Law System
  • Legal Fees
  • Child Support
  • Monitoring and Improvement of the Performance of Stakeholders
  • Risk Mitigation
  • Court structure
  • Information sharing between government agencies and courts
  • The role of grandparents, and their access to the court system as carers.

The Committee’s Terms of Reference highlight a number of important issues that affect Australians. These include:

  • exorbitant legal fees, and in particular fees that are disproportionate to the asset pool in any given matter;
  • Slow court processes.
  • Taking proactive legal measures to avoid the likelihood of litigation, such as obtaining prenuptial agreements or binding financial agreements.

However, the Terms of Reference also highlight some concerning presumptions. These include:

  • That the Judicial system can create an unsafe environment for families and victims of violence. This shifts the blame from parties responsible for violence and distracts the Committee from identifying real issues of concern.
  • That parties are fraudulently exploiting the Court process to obtain AVO’s/FVO’s as a means of shoring-up their cases. This a form of victim shaming which prevents women from seeking help, and distracts the Committee from identifying real issues of concern.

The Select Committee will be headed by Kevin Andrews MP. Ms. Pauline Hanson will be co-chair. Both Mr. Andrews and Ms. Hanson have publicly expressed specific views about issues within the family law sphere and their appointment has raised considerable comment and criticism to the effect that the creation of the Committee is no more than a political exercise to accommodate conservatives.

Others have suggested that the purpose of the creation of the Committee is much more cynical, see for example at:

“Family law inquiry is no sop to Hanson. It’s a deliberate move to bury previous reviews.”
Jess Hill – The Guardian Australia

In order to achieve appropriate reform, it is vital that members of the Committee and members of Parliament, treat this Inquiry with the level of respect and delicacy that it deserves. A fundamental way to achieve this is by:

  • listening twice as much as one speaks (we have two ears and one mouth, after all);
  • undertaking Family Violence Awareness Training.
  • consulting widely with relevant State and Territory Law Societies, family violence groups, Youth and Protections Services and any other relevant stakeholder that understands the true deficiencies in the Australian Family Law System.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a family law or family violence problem, you can contact Jonathan Statham or one of our other experienced family law solicitors.

e: jstatham@elringtons.com.au | p: 02 6206 1300