Australian Government to overhaul Divorce and the Family Court

We all know this probably means funding cuts. A bad news story, right? At MELCA, we’re not so sure about that.

To start with, we think this is an opportunity to talk about why on earth the law has taken charge of family separation in the first place.

We’ve been wondering aloud for years why any child would want their Mum and Dad to end up fighting about them in front of a court room full of strangers.

We’ve also wondered a lot about why couples who need help to sort out their asset split and child support would talk to a lawyer before talking to a financial planner.

And most of all, we wonder every day why communication problems are ignored by the legal system, when communication is what has usually let couples down in the first place.

We wonder and wonder about so many other aspects of separation that don’t seem to be the natural home of a lawyer’s office, far less a court room. We don’t find it at all weird that the Family Court should be overhauled. We just find it well overdue.

We at MELCA are completely committed to an interdisciplinary approach to family separation. We think lawyers have their place, but we think there are other professionals who are needed more, especially in the early stages of a couple’s separation. We are not lawyer-bashing; the author of this article is a lawyer, but it’s time to stand back and take another look at a system that was probably broken before it started, but is now broke and broken.

Some Weird Facts about the Family Law System

  • Did you know that you can go to Court to argue about your children without ever having had any parent education, including education about being a separated parent?
  • Did you know that if you just don’t show up to mediation about your parenting plan, nothing happens to you?
  • Did you know that the first time you meet a child psychologist might be when they are assessing you and your ex in a competition to tell the judge who is the best parent?
  • Did you know that no matter how dysfunctional your communication with your ex is, you can both just keep right on playing out those same old patterns, even while supposedly mediating about your kids?
  • Did you know that you can go to Court without ever sitting down and making at least some attempt to come to an agreement about your asset split?
  • Did you know that you could spend tens of thousands of dollars having two lawyers create a statement of your assets & liabilities?
  • Did you know that the Family Law act never once mentions working with financial planners or anything about financial education?

Amazing isn’t it, that you have access to a slow, archaic expensive court, full of overworked judges who frankly don’t have time to care about your family in their crowded daily list, but not much help to look at other options? And even more astonishing, is that after all the heartache, time and money you spend “going to court” you’ll most likely never get there? Only 2% of people have their case decided by a judge!

You do know that your day in court is a lottery you might not want to win of course? Which judge, which day, which lawyer on the other side, which city, which number you are in the court list, can all make the difference between a result you can live with, and one that will make you regret going to court for the rest of your life.

At MELCA, we say bring on the review of the Family Court.

What would we recommend?

  • We would like people to understand that the Family Law act requirement to mediate a parenting plan before going to Court is all wrong. We think that instead of mediation, parents and children would be much better off working with a child psychologist who could support their family, look at the real issues they face, and work as their ally and champion; not as a witness, but as wise counsel.
  • We think that no parenting plans should be made for children until their parents have worked out some of their own relationship and communication issues, so that they are really talking about their kids, not their own “stuff”.
  • We think children’s voices should be heard when it comes to making parenting plans. Not for them to make decisions, but for their Mum and Dad to hear how the world with all its fears and promises, looks to them.
  • We would like all Mums and Dads to have the advantage of parent education courses, preferably courses that they do together, so they can be on the same page for their kids.
  • We think that financial planners could be the first port of call for money matters, collating the Assets & Liabilities and working on budgets, which is their training.
  • We think couples should be required to make a supported effort to work out a financial and child support deal without any option of going to court before they do so.
  • We ask why we don’t encourage/recommend/ nudge/push/require couples to work with counsellors as part of their separation, to work out how they got to where they are. For their own sake, for that of their children, and for their future relationships. This would be an investment in social capital.
  • And for the one who wants to sit on their porch and refuse to talk or negotiate, there’s always the tax or social security system that could give them a nudge.
  • Australia needs to think right outside the Family Law Act; more Family and less Law.

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