A number of articles in the media lately have highlighted the need for greater funding of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court to hear the substantial backlog of family law cases currently before those Courts.
The time it takes to get to trial and the waiting time to obtain a decision are worsening. The failure of the Federal Government to appoint further Family Court Judges has meant that retiring Judges are not replaced and current Judges take on greater case loads and burdens. It is simply impossible for these Judges to deal with matters quickly and efficiently. There are not enough hours in the day.
However, this crisis means that family lawyers around the country have a greater responsibility to settle their matters. There is no excuse for taking a matter to trial. Litigation in Court should be an absolute last resort and in most cases should be a resort that is never contemplated.
Negotiations, mediations, collaborative lawyering and arbitration are but a few of the tools available to a good family lawyer to settle their client’s matter fairly and efficiently away from the Court system.
I find it quite upsetting to see so many matters listed in the Court each day. A family lawyer should be able to prevent most of their matters ever going to Court. Twenty-five years ago when I first started practice I was in Court almost every day as was every other member of my firm. It was the done thing – you separated and you litigated.
Today, I have a considerably greater workload then I did twenty-five years ago but I am hardly in Court at all. Our firm prides itself on settling matters quickly and efficiently and avoiding Court.
The heartening news is that many family lawyers are doing the same thing and keeping their clients out of Court. However, there are still far too many family lawyers (including experienced ones) who jump quickly and regularly into Court.
It is these family lawyers who need to take a good, hard look at themselves and their practices and change the way in which they practice. Aggressive and bullying tactics by lawyers plays on the emotional vulnerability of unsuspecting family law clients.
One can be an excellent family lawyer and achieve a good outcome for a client, in a technical and a legal sense, without having to race off to Court and litigate for years on end just to make more money out of the matter. Yes – the Federal Government needs to provide more funding but in hand with this, family lawyers also need to take responsibility and stop litigating.