Strategies for dealing with excessive delays in the Family Law Courts: Use your Court dates wisely

by Peter Magee on October 27, 2016

Peter Magee

This article is part four of a four part series dealing with strategies for resolving your family law dispute in a timely way in circumstances where the Family Law Courts are experiencing significant delays in many Registries. As I have noted in previous blog articles, some cases are taking two years and beyond to obtain a final hearing. We have to work within the confines of this system and, unfortunately, there are rare cases where a final hearing is unavoidable.

This article emphasises the importance of getting the best outcome possible every single time your case is listed before a Court and what this can mean for resolving your case faster.

Comply with Court Directions, Orders and Rules

The Family Law Court is a very busy place and its Judges have formidable case loads. They work tirelessly to resolve cases and expect parties to do the same. What this means in practical terms is that if the Court tells you to do something, you’d better make sure that you do it.

If you’re not compliant with a Judge’s Directions regarding, for example, when you are to file further Court material, arrange an appointment with an expert witness or complete a post-separation parenting course, assume that most excuses that you may have will not be acceptable. Your non-compliance says to a Judge that you do not take the Court’s authority seriously. It can also result in you losing a future Court date because your case is not ready to proceed to the next stage. Sometimes this delay your final hearing date six months and beyond, so the consequences are very real. Coming back to Court in the interim to satisfy the Judge that your case is back on track is another common way of dealing with non-compliance. This will also add further expenses and disruption to your life.

Each Court date is an opportunity to reach an agreement

If you and your legal team are on the same page about what your likely outcome is and you understand the risks and costs of proceeding versus settling the case, then you know the key variables. With this information it is possible for parties to take genuine steps to attempt to negotiate an overall resolution of your matter on the day of an interim Court hearing. This is, in fact, where many cases resolve. All of the parties are present, the parties’ barristers bring a fresh set of eyes to the conflict, and negotiations can progress in a way that is just not possible via written correspondence. In my experience, a Court date is also a good reminder to parties that the Family Court is not a pleasant places. This adds a further sense of urgency to any settlement discussions.

The crux of this point is this – be prepared. Know your case and have an overall game plan as well as your shorter term strategy. You want to be in a position where you can comfortably talk about the big picture if the opportunity presents.

Interim arrangements are important

Given the delays in the Court system, interim arrangements can remain in place for months. It is crucial that you have considered the practical ramifications of this when seeking interim Orders from the Court. Whilst an interim outcome may look great today and tomorrow, you may not have another opportunity to re-agitate these issues for another six months. This is an important consideration in a case where one parent is seeking a gradated increase in their contact with their young child. But there are many contexts where it is important to be aware of the medium term consequences of interim Orders.

In summary, there are creative solutions and insights that experienced family lawyers can draw on to ensure that you have the best possible chance at obtaining the best possible outcome, despite the delays in the Family Law Courts.

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