STRIPPED of resources and funding, the family law courts are in turmoil, with some parties waiting more than three years to have their matters heard.
Family law specialist Matthew Oakley yesterday labelled the state of the family law courts “a disgrace”, citing examples where separated parents have to wait 18 months for contact with their children because their case is in a massive backlog.
Mr Oakley said he had tried to raise the matter with federal member John Cobb, but had received no response. When the Western Advocate called Mr Cobb’s office about the issue, he failed to return the call.
Speaking with the Advocate, Mr Oakley said there was a real concern that judges from the Parramatta Family Law Court would be moved into Goulburn Street, Sydney, placing more pressure on a system in crisis.
While this has not yet been publicly announced, Mr Oakley said if people wait to see if it goes ahead, it might be too late.
“It’s an absolute disgrace; there is no money and no resources,” he said.
“The judges sitting on these circuits have enormous workloads. Normally they would have 300 matters at any one time; at the moment they have over 1000.
“Interim hearings are not likely to be heard until 2017, which is simply unacceptable.”
He said he was familiar with matters where one parent in a separated family had to wait up to 18 months for contact with their children, because the other party wouldn’t allow access and they couldn’t get the matter before the courts.
“It’s absolute anarchy,” he said.
“People are doing what they want and children are stuck in the middle being used as pawns in a dispute.
“Some parents are simply doing what they want because they know they won’t be made accountable.”
Mr Oakley said he had spoken with a number of other barristers and understood that letters had been sent to federal members of parliament, all without apparent response.
“I think there needs to be an avalanche to get the government’s attention,” he said.
Mr Oakley said he had contacted John Cobb before Christmas, and a staff member had promised faithfully that he would return Mr Oakley’s call.
Mr Oakley followed up again, but is still waiting to hear back.
“I don’t know how interested Mr Cobb is, but it’s absolute anarchy,” he said of the system.
“This a court that involves 30 per cent or more of the population. It needs to be properly resourced.
“Family law matters are highly emotional and deal with the lives of many families and the delays have a significant detrimental impact on children’s ability to ‘know and be cared for by both their parents’, which is one of the objects of the Act.”
He said the reality was children were the ones most affected.
“In the middle of all this mess are the children; it’s a situation that is just outrageous,” he said.
“These are matters which should be dealt with quickly and efficiently before a court so people can get on with their lives.”