New funding for family law services to support women to recover financially after separation
Women will be the beneficiaries of a funding boost for family law services and initiatives to help women establish economic security after separation as part of the Coalition Government's Women's Economic Security Package.
Women often experience financial hardship after separation, especially those women who have experienced family violence and they may not have the financial or other means to access services, lawyers, and the courts to resolve their family law disputes.
The Women's Economic Security Package is a practical measure to help give women greater choices about their lives and to build financial security for themselves and their families. It is particularly meant to assist those women and their children who may be experiencing domestic and family violence. It is anticipated that this package of measures will assist and encourage women, including victims of domestic and family violence, to pursue safer, faster, and fairer parenting arrangements and property settlements after separation and will assist them to obtain economic security for themselves and their children.
Without appropriate supports and assistance, women may be more likely to agree to inequitable settlements to avoid the stress and cost of going to court, or to abandon their property claims altogether.
Women experiencing domestic and family violence will also benefit from new ongoing funding for Legal Aid Commissions to support the ban on direct cross-examination by perpetrators of DFV. The funding, initially $7 million over three years, establishes the new Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme.
Under this Scheme, Legal Aid Commissions will be funded to provide legal representation to parties subject to the ban on direct cross-examination in the Government's Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018, which is currently before the Senate.
The Bill will protect victims of DFV in family law proceedings by banning direct cross-examination in certain circumstances, requiring that cross-examination be conducted by a legal representative.
Legal representation under the Scheme will be available to all parties who are subject to the ban on direct cross-examination – the usual legal aid means and merits tests will not apply.
As required under the Bill, the legislation will be reviewed after two years and will include an analysis of the costs of providing legal representation under the Scheme to inform its ongoing funding requirements.
Further measures being funded from 2019-20 under the Package include:
- $31.8 million in ongoing funding to existing Commonwealth-funded specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships across Australia, with an expansion of these services to include financial advice, counselling and literacy services.
- $50.4 million in new funding for family law property mediation services:
- $13 million each year will be provided to the 65 Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) across Australia, on an ongoing basis, to help families reach agreement about splitting their property after separation and keep them out of court.
- $10.3 million will be provided to Legal Aid Commissions for a two year trial of lawyer-assisted mediation in each state and territory. Using a more relaxed means and merit test, the trial will support families with asset pools of up to $500,000 (excluding debt) to resolve their property disputes with the help of experienced legal aid lawyers.
- $5.9 million in new funding for the federal family courts to conduct a two year trial of simpler and faster court processes for resolving family law property cases with an asset pool of up to $500,000 (excluding debt). Additional court Registrars will be appointed to help separated couples prepare consent orders to be lodged with the court, and a short-form process will be used if the case needs to be decided by a judge.