Australia’s Family Courts on Trial

A major review and reform of Australia’s family court system is the goal of one of the first motions due for debate as parliament resumes this week in Canberra. Moved by Victorian Senator John Madigan, the Senate Motion has been co-signed by cross-bench Senators Day, Leyonhjelm, Lambie, Lazarus, Muir and Wang.

“We urgently need to reform the system,” said Senator Madigan. “Too many families, too many children, are being deeply harmed by the current system. It’s slow, unaffordable and divisive. That’s no way to deal with the trauma of family separation.”

This debate comes on the heels of renewed calls for more family court judges, from the Chief Judges of both the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court, to address the years-long delays in court proceedings faced by most separating families and their children.

“The best outcome for children is for cases to be dealt with within hopefully six months of filing so they can be in and out within a 12-month period,” said Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe, AC.

Last week, Chief Judge Pascoe used his Australia Day acceptance speech to call for more family court judges. In expressing concern that the current system was leaving women vulnerable and children at risk, he joined Family Court Chief Judge Bryant who, last October, told ABC radio that the family courts were at the forefront of fighting domestic violence and that the current system was “bad for the parents” and “bad for the children”.

Australia’s Family Law Reform Coalition agreed that the family courts were causing enormous, avoidable harm to thousands of children but said that appointing more judges was not the solution. “If a medical procedure is found to be harming children, we don’t just put on more doctors to do more of the same. We find an alternative – urgently,” said spokesman Dr David Curl.

“More judges won’t make family courts less adversarial. More money won’t stop them being unaffordable to the vast majority of Australian parents. And reducing court cases from 3 to 2 years, or even 12 months, won’t stop tens of thousands of children from being harmed for life. The harm is done in the first few months, or even weeks, when children are wrongly left with abusive parents, or wrongfully removed from good ones – by a court not competent to tell the difference,” Dr Curl said.

“Australian families desperately need the government to implement its own 2003 recommendations to create a new, non-adversarial system – for the sake of our children. We can’t afford to wait 10 years for some Royal Commission to look back at the untold damage caused to our children and to society by a family court system that was never fit for purpose and that operated without proper scrutiny for 50 years.”


The Family Law Reform Coalition is an Australia-wide association of groups and individuals working towards major family law reform in Australia and throughout the world. For further information, or for a copy of the “Children in Crisis” paper, see:

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