What were the investments announced in this year’s Budget 2022 in terms of family law issues?
Court data released last year revealed that there is even more risk present in family law matters than was previously believed. Around 80% of family law cases allege the existence of at least one major risk factor (including family violence). And data from the pilot Lighthouse Project has further revealed that half of high-risk matters screened contained four or more major risk factors. And it’s in the shadow of those figures that the Treasurer has delivered targeted support through the Budget 2022 family law measures.
(Budget 2022 family law measures….continued)
The positives of Budget 2022 are the injection of funds into Legal Aid Commissions as well as the court system, with a continued focus on supporting women and children experiencing family violence. This means further investment into measures like the Family Violence Cross-Examination Scheme, and early identification of risk factors in parenting matters via the much praised Lighthouse Project. The Budget also enhances the courts’ support for indigenous parties with funding for a significant number of Indigenous Family Liaison Officers. (Scroll to the end for a complete breakdown of all the Budget 2022 family law funding measures.)
Expanding the Lighthouse Project
The Lighthouse Project is a world-first risk screening, triage and assessment process currently being piloted in Brisbane, Parramatta and Adelaide. Designed to assist courts to manage risk in family law matters, its purpose is to ensure safer outcomes for vulnerable people in the family law system. This is done through intensive case management and safety planning delivered by a team of skilled senior judicial officers and child experts.
With this funding, the pilot can be expanded nationally for parenting and parenting/property cases to all 15 registries, namely Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong.
More support for indigenous people
There is funding for 11 additional Indigenous Family Liaison Officers to assist with specialist indigenous lists and other parts of the case management pathway. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) currently runs a specialist Indigenous List, or modified case management processes tailored to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander litigants, in five locations: Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney.
These measures have been welcomed by the Law Council, however it notes that the Budget appears to be lacking measures directly specifically at improving access to and delivery of services for all Australian families traversing the family law system. Whether the investments will help the backlog in the court system remains to be seen, the Law Council said, noting the many years of chronic underfunding to the family law sector. It is also still expensive for Australians to use the legal system, and many can’t afford legal fees but don’t qualify for Legal Aid. The Law Council says that where the rest of the Budget 2022 was all about essential services and the rising cost of living, the Government apparently still does not regard legal services as an essential service. And yet, the need to be able to access legal help is “profound”, as people’s legal troubles impact on so many other areas of their lives.
The Courts note that they will continue to seek funding to support key projects like the PPP500 List (the priority property pool pilot), which would be very useful to the many litigants with relatively small asset pools.
Detailed breakdown of Budget 2022 family law investments:
- $87.9 million over four years to expand the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s Lighthouse Project pilot and culturally responsive support for First Nations Australians. This includes $63.75 million in funding to the Court and $24.2 million over three years for Legal Aid Commissions to raise their capacity to meet increased demand for representation services resulting from the extension and expansion of the Lighthouse Project pilot.
- $52.4 million over four years to Legal Aid Commissions to meet expected demand for support under the Family Violence and Cross Examination of Parties Scheme.
- $22 million over five years from 2021-22 to support the placement of state child protection and policing officials in the family law courts across Australia to facilitate information sharing between the family law, child protection and family violence systems.
- $16.5 million over two years from 2021-22 to support Legal Aid Commissions to meet the cost of legal representation, including independent children lawyers as ordered by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia as part of the Government’s enhanced case management arrangements for family law proceedings.
- $8.4 million over three years for a pilot of a new service delivery model to provide survivors of sexual assault with greater access to dedicated legal services to support their recovery and engagement with the criminal justice system.
- $7 million over two years for nine Women’s and Community Legal Services nationally, to help women access legal assistance and migration support,
- $5.4 million over two years from 2021-22 to existing legal assistance services operating within Queensland and NSW to support individuals and businesses affected by the recent floods.
Source: Law Council
If you need assistance with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.