JOINT MEDIA RELEASE – ATTORNEY-GENERAL and MINISTER FOR FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES
A report released today by the Federal Government recommends ways to significantly improve information and services for separating families, and to remove frustrating hurdles that make settling arrangements unnecessarily hard and expensive.
Out of the Maze FLPReport, launched by the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, and the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Amanda Vanstone, found the effects of family separation are far-reaching, costly and, when families experience a lot of conflict, children can suffer long term effects.
It recommends that Federal and State government and community agencies streamline services and focus on helping all family members quickly, fairly, appropriately and without bias. It found that the needs of children should, but don’t always, come first when parents break up.
Of key concern to the Howard Government is the finding that lack of coordination in the current system makes things worse for family members who are already struggling to manage emotionally and financially difficult issues.
Family members often find themselves on a slippery slope, with disputes about issues such as parenting arrangements, child support and poverty that get out of hand and facing costs they cannot afford, because they did not know their choices or understand the consequences of advice given to them.
It is also clear from the report that a number of people feel they are treated with disdain, disrespect or bias as they attempt to sort out their separation issues.
The report recommends training for professionals, community education, additional support services, including children’s contact services, and counselling and parenting support for family members including fathers.
The report by the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group, established by the Howard Government in May last year, makes 28 recommendations aimed at overcoming these problems, including:
a.. Conducting a long-term community education campaign that would focus on the needs of children, reinforce post-separation parenting responsibilities and provide information on where to get help;
b.. Making assessment and referral available at all entry points to the system to enable families to choose the services they need;
c.. Ensuring that service options to help family decision making are timely, wide-ranging, supportive and fair, and include litigation only when required;
d.. Increasing access to services for men that help them effectively co-parent their children after separation; and
e.. Making sure that current legislation and the requirements of government do not operate in a way that aggravates the difficulties faced by families during and after separation.
At the core of the recommendations is a proposal to coordinate all involved in the family law system. This includes the people and services involved in working with families after separation, not just the courts and legal profession involved during separation.
Many of the recommendations build on initiatives that have already been established by the Howard Government, such as the enhancement of primary dispute resolution services. We will consider the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.
We would like to thank the group for its hard work in producing the report.