Lawyers get $5b a year from family law


THE family law system is in dire strife with cases increasing by almost 20,000 in the past decade and lawyers now raking in almost $5 billion a year.

Family law activists say the system has become a "lawyers' picnic" with each case now costing parties an average of $40,000.

In several cases examined by the Sunday Herald Sun, the representation and advice provided has been criticised by the client.

Lone Fathers Association president Barry Williams said the family law system, funded by the taxpayer to the tune of $200 million, had become "a multi-billion-dollar cottage industry for lawyers".

"The system is in crisis. The costs of going to court are onerous and there is little public accountability," he said.

"It's ridiculous. We are seeing lawyers prolonging things just to make more money

"Now they're even asking for cash up front before they'll act for someone."

The Family Court has met only five of its eight performance targets, despite giving a lot of its case load to the Federal Magistrates' Court - according to its annual report released during the week.

About 28 per cent of its cases have dragged on for more than a year and in 54 per cent of cases reserved judgment took longer than three months to hand down, the report reveals.

The Federal Magistrates' court is now hearing or processing almost 85,000 family law matters each year.

In the past week:

A MAN was jailed without bail for unwittingly driving past his daughter and estranged wife in breach of a suppression order;

A HIGH Court challenge was launched by a man who has not seen his children for four years despite a Family Court judge deeming him "principled" and the children's mother "cruel" and "malicious".

A FATHER, wrongly accused of sexual abuse by his estranged wife, lost his job, his home and spent $18,000 clearing his name and was refused compensation.

The Legal Services Commission received 512 complaints about family law matters in 2009-10 - almost a quarter of the complaints.


A survey of Family Court cases where allegations of sexual abuse against children were made showed that of 24 allegations, 23 were proved false and one was undetermined.

Historian and former family law activist Michael Lermontov-Midgley said the secrecy surrounding Family Court cases protected people who made false accusations of violence or abuse and hides incompetence, bias and negligence.

In a submission to the Senate review of family law, Mr Lermontov-Midgley said: "The Family Law Act bans the publication of anything that may identify, or tend to identify, parties to proceedings - ostensibly to protect children from publicity.

"It also shields bias, negligence and incompetence in the system and people who make false allegations of spousal violence and/or child abuse without the threat of defamation or proof required in other courts.

" ... these false allegations are being raised as a tactical manoeuvre in family law proceedings."

He said family law cases should become publicly transparent, with the parties identified.