Landmark Senate decision may transform family courts

In a landmark decision this week, the Senate passed a Motion that could lead to thousands of Australian children being spared the harmful ordeal of family court proceedings. Moved by Victorian Senator John Madigan, with the cross-bench support of Senators Day, Leyonhjelm, Lambie, Lazarus, Muir and Wang, the Motion called on the government to undertake a “root and branch” review of Australia’s family courts and to implement a new, non-adversarial system, as recommended by a comprehensive 2003 cross-party report on Australia’s family court system.

“This is an historic moment for all of us fighting for change in the Family Court,” Senator Madigan said. “The government is now on notice that the Senate recognises there are deep and significant problems in the Family Court that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Australia’s family courts have been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after the United Nations made the unprecedented announcement that our family courts had violated the human rights of a father and son by “arbitrary interference” into their family life, while Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge Pascoe made renewed calls for more family court judges to address the years-long court proceedings faced by most separating families and their children. Family Court Chief Judge Bryant told ABC radio that the current situation 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 spokesperson 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 won’t stop tens of thousands of children from being harmed for life. The harm is done in the first few months 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.

“The Senate’s decision this week sent out a powerful message: 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 our society by a family court system that was never fit for purpose and that operated without proper scrutiny for half a century.”


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” policy paper, visit

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