President of The Law Society of NSW Doug Humphreys said the rollout of parenting management hearings would create a two-tier system for self-represented litigants to resolve disputes, adding another layer in an already complicated process.
“The emotional nature of family law proceedings often lends itself to protracted litigation,” Mr Humphreys said. “There is a presumption that self-represented litigants can satisfactorily understand or be guided through complex legal processes”.
“Rather than fast-track cases, parenting management hearings could add to delays, costs and frustrations for families who turn to the justice system for help.”
Mr Humphreys said the backlog of matters and delays in the family law system would be better addressed if the funds allocated for parenting management hearings were redirected to the courts.
Many cases before the courts involved family violence, parenting disputes or complex property divisions that were inappropriate to be dealt with by panels that were not comprised of judicial officers or legal professionals, he said.
“The use of parenting management hearings sets a dangerous precedent whereby panels of people who are not legally trained are determining an outcome for vulnerable families,” Mr Humphreys said.
Mr Humphreys said this was particularly concerning where children were involved.
“Only trained and highly experienced judicial officers can sensibly consider the facts and make a binding determination that is best for a child and as good an outcome as possible for the parties,” he said.
The Law Society urges the Federal government to reconsider the proposed parenting management scheme and to put the funds allocated for the scheme into resourcing the existing courts. —