Family Law Update

Posted 26th May 2016 by Dirk Klicker

Family Court of Western Australia – Workload & Timeframes

In this Blog, I provide a brief summary and comment about the current workload of the Family Court of Western Australia (“the Court”) and the likely timeframes to be experienced by litigants in the Court.

The Blog is based on information recently provided by the Court and by the Family Law Practitioner’s Association of Western Australia.

Clients regularly ask me about how long their case may take if they are considering commencing proceedings in the Court or if they have proceedings pending in the Court.

The workload of the Court and the timeframes likely to be experienced by litigants are directly related, so that as the workloads of the Court increase so to do the timeframes and delays.

In summary, there has been an increase in the workload of the Court. In particular, there has been an increase in the applications filed in the Court for the 12 months ending 30 March 2016, when compared to the 12 months ending 30 March 2015 as follows:

  1. 1782 Form 1s seeking only parenting orders were filed compared to 1612 (an increase of 170, being 10.5%)
  2. 940 Form 1s seeking only financial orders were filed compared to 851 (an increase of 89, being 10.5%)
  3. 2531 Form 2s seeking only parenting orders were filed compared to 2231 (an increase of 300, being 13.4%)
  4. 1088 Form 2s seeking only financial orders were filed compared to 995 (an increase of 93, being 9.3%)

The statistics confirming that the workload of the Court has significantly increased are not surprising to me as a family law practitioner working in Perth being consistent with my personal experience in family law.

The above increases in the workload of the Court are I think a result of a number of forces at work including:

  1. An increase in the rate of separation in WA. It has been reported that couples separate in about half of marriages. If you include de facto couples in the equation it is more than likely that the rate of separation is actually much higher than about half. Based on my anecdotal experience over the past 10 years I think that this trend will continue.
  2. An increase in population in WA. It has been reported that population numbers in WA have been steadily increasing. As the population increases in WA so does the number of people filing applications in the Court.
  3. An increase in the number of couples separating with younger children. In my practice I have noticed a significant increase in the number of parties in dispute about very young children, including newly born. As both parents emotionally want to still be heavily involved in the care of their very young children, this leads to an increase in the likelihood that there will be a dispute between the parents as to the level of care going forward.

Not surprisingly the increase in workload of the Court has translated into increase waiting times and delays for litigants.

The Court has provided the following performance indicators for the week commencing Monday, 16 May 2016:

  1. The number of weeks estimated for the Court to process consent orders has increased from about 8 weeks to about 10 weeks.
  2. The waiting time for a conciliation conference has increased from about 3 months to about 4 months, with current listing dates being about 22 September 2016.
  3. The waiting time for a readiness hearing has increased from about 6-8 months to about 9 months.

The Court has in the past few years implemented a number of practices and procedures in an attempt to deal with increasing workloads and delays as follows:

  1. The parties are required to engage in family dispute resolution in relation to children’s matters before commencing proceedings in the Court.
  2. The parties are required to engage in the pre-action procedures in relation to financial matters before going to Court.
  3. The parties must file an affidavit now at the commencement of proceedings in relation to financial cases setting out all of the facts supporting their case.
  4. The parties must attend a mediation style conference in relation to financial cases before their case will be progressed through the Court.

Notwithstanding the implementation of the above practices and procedures, the workload and delays of the Court have increased.

If the workload of the Court is increasing then the timeframes will inevitably increase, unless the Court is provided with additional funding to enable the Court to add additional Judicial Officers to deal with the increasing workload of the Court.

As a family practitioner I am very concerned at the current timeframes that litigants in the Court are facing. I would go so far as to say that the timeframes and delays are unreasonable and unsatisfactory and that I am surprised that there is not more expression of concern in the community about the delays.  It seems that we are heading towards a crisis in family law in WA unless there is an increase of funding to the Court to deal with the increasing workload and delays or there is an overhaul of some kind and a streamlining of the process, although how that is to be achieved is beyond the scope of this short Blog.