Dear Ms Roxon,
I am a lawyer with over 18 years litigation experience, and a Senior Family Lawyer at Armstrong Legal, one of Australia’s largest private family law firms.
My colleagues and I are understandably concerned about what you described as “A small administrative error”, the result of which may call into questions steps taken and Orders made in de facto property matters in the last three years. Affected clients are no doubt, also concerned.
What is of greater concern to me, however, is the naivety and lack of knowledge shown by you about an area of law for which you are responsible. I refer in particular to your interview with Marius Benson on 22 February and your media release of 29 February. For example:
- You informed Mr Benson that it had previously been “a long, very expensive process” when de facto property disputes were dealt with in the State Courts, “at often vast expense”, “with fairly long delays”. It seems that those comments were made to justify your Government’s transfer of de facto property jurisdiction from the State Courts to the federal Family Law Courts.
Unfortunately, the facts are very different. When de facto property matters were dealt with in the State Courts, it typically took about 9 months for parties to reach a final hearing. Delays in obtaining a final hearing date in the federal Family Law Courts are now between 18 months to 2 years. The extra time involved almost always involves extra cost.
That is, de facto property matters now take twice as long, if not longer, to get to a final hearing and the costs can be higher. The delays in the federal Family Law Courts system seem to me to stem from your Government adding de facto property matters to that jurisdiction, without increasing funding available to it.
- You told Marius Benson and stated in your media release of 29 February that you encourage people to stick to agreements they had made, notwithstanding that your Government’s oversight may mean that such agreements are invalid. You encouraged people to “take a sensible approach”. Perhaps you have never had experience of a separating couple. Certainly, those comments suggest that you have no understanding of the way many separating couples behave when in dispute following the breakdown of their relationships.
Sadly, but perhaps understandably, at such times people can feel enormous pain and anger, which can turn into bitterness and hate. Despite the best efforts of most lawyers who practise in the family law area, some parties can want to use every advantage that may be available to them through the legal system in order to inflict pain on the other party, because of the bitterness and hate that they feel. If I may be so blunt as to say so, it is grossly naive to assume that there will not be some people wanting their lawyers to take advantage of the opportunity caused by your Government’s oversight to inflict further financial damage, as well as emotional pain, on their former de facto partner.
If you are to remain as Attorney General responsible for the family law jurisdiction, I would urge you to take some time to learn what it is really like to deal with the federal Family Law Courts and to work in our field.