The government says the family justice reforms are proving highly successful with 74% of parenting disputes referred to mediation by 5 October 2014 resolved without going to court.
The reforms, which came into effect on 31 March 2014, include the use of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) processes for separating couples. Justice Minister Amy Adams said, "Almost three-quarters of parents going into mediation are resolving their disputes without having to go to court which is reducing the inevitable stress children and families face when their parents separate. It also means the Family Court can now focus on the most difficult cases, especially those involving family violence, that require judicial expertise."
The use of FDR has caused concern for advocates concerned about family violence. Under the reforms, urgent matters such as disputes that involve family violence or abuse are to be referred straight the Family Court where all parties are entitled to legal representation and, if eligible, legal aid. However, this requires FDR practitioners to effectively identify those experiencing family violence.
A recent study in the UK, where FDR processes have been implemented as part of similar reforms, found that despite legislation and policy requiring practitioners to screen for domestic violence, screening was "not currently done sufficiently rigorously or consistently." The authors stated that effective screening for client and case suitability is needed in all processes, combined with appropriate responses to the situation. They also said practitioners could do more to address the support needs of victims of domestic violence and abuse, including referring to and working with domestic violence support services.
Figures released by the Government show the use of FDR mediation and other services including Parenting through Separation courses, Family Legal Advice Service and the Family Justice website.
Submitted on Tue, 2014-11-11 11:51