THE popularity of mediation and out-of-court settlements for family law cases has surged over the last five years, according to a director at family law specialists Hartley Healy.
Brett Hartley (pictured) says funding cuts to the family and federal circuit courts are pushing up processing times and encouraging Brisbane clients to avoid the courtroom.
"There has been a strong element of necessity to this recent growth, as funding cuts to the family and federal circuit courts - who deal with more than 80,000 family law matters nationally each year - has greatly increased the average time taken to make rulings," he says.
"Some people have waited for up to two years just to go to trial, and three years for a final judgment.
"In many cases there just aren't enough judges - the Brisbane federal circuit court, for example, has just 11 judges who oversee a very large case catchment."
In 2014, family court chief justice Diana Bryant criticised the federal government's $15 million cut to legal aid for disproportionately affecting family law.
However, Hartley says he also advocates for mediation because it can reduce the emotional impact of cases.
"Ninety-nine per cent of people who come to us do not want their matter to go to trial," he says.
"Whereas once court proceedings were the norm, now they really should be viewed as the last resort."
Family businesses and shared superannuation funds can add an extra layer of complexity to family law cases.
Hartley says clients are looking to mediation as a tool to work through these issues as well
"A family business is often a life support for a family during a successful marriage," he says.
"Upon separation, the ongoing viability of that business and who retains the business can often be an area of dispute and difficult to resolve.
"Whether a super fund should be split, and how much a party should obtain as part of their settlement can sometimes be an area of dispute and adds complexity to resolving the dispute.
"Mediations provide a quick, cost-effective resolution for separating families, and should be seen as a compulsory first-step after separation, not just an option."
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