In March 2019, the Northern Territory Local Court will open the doors to a new pilot providing holistic solutions for Northern Territory families. The Family Law Pilot is a joint initiative between the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth governments that aims to make it simpler for parents, Territory Families and interested parties to navigate what may otherwise be a complex family law system.
The Pilot can assist families in situations where parents, Territory Families and other carers agree on how to best care for children, but there are legal hurdles to formalising those arrangements.
Previously these cases could be subject to action from Territory Families in the Local Court, and then require further action in the Family Law Courts, making it a lengthy, complicated and frustrating process for children and families in the Northern Territory.
The Pilot gives the Local Court power to help resolve child protection matters without needing to send families off to the Family Law Courts, once a safe and appropriate care arrangement is found. Finalisation by way of Family Law Orders will mean Territory Families will often no longer be involved with the child.
The Pilot will focus on Family Law parenting orders being made by the Local Court. It will not include child support, property or divorce orders. For the Local Court to make a Family Law parenting order under the Pilot, there must be both a related child protection issue and the parties need to be in general agreement about the care arrangements for a child.
Territory Families remove a child because the parents are unable to safely care for their child. Territory Families places the child with a grandparent. Both parents agree that the child should remain with the grandparent, as does the grandparent.
Currently, in order to maintain the child’s placement with the grandparent Territory Families would need to maintain a Protection Order from the Local Court. If the grandparent wished to formalise this arrangement without the ongoing involvement of Territory Families they would need to take action in the Family Law Courts (the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court), which is a complicated process that can be lengthy and expensive.
Under the pilot the NT Local Court in Darwin will have the ability to make a Family Law order allowing the child to live with the grandparent and for the grandparent to have the right to make decisions about the child. The Family Law order can also specify who can spend time with the child, which is not always possible when making a Protection Order.
Once a Family Law order is made, Territory Families can discontinue and withdraw the child protection proceedings, allowing the organisation to direct resources elsewhere. This will all be able to occur within the Local Court without parties having to file duplicate proceedings in multiple courts.
Judicial Registrar Kris Norrington said that in the Northern Territory, remoteness and language barriers can present hurdles for families with complex needs to commence proceedings in the Family Law Courts.
He said the Pilot should improve access to justice by making the process simpler and provide better outcomes for at-risk children.
“Under the current system, Territory Families have to be involved for a Protection Order to be made. The orders will often require supervision of the family by the Department or the order may provide that the Department has Parental Responsibility for the child. Obtaining a Family Law order will re-empower families to make the decisions about the child without having ongoing involvement from the Department.”
“The Pilot will give the Local Court enhanced tools to make more practical and comprehensive orders when everyone agrees about what is best for the child.”
The Family Law Pilot begins in March and will continue until June 2020, when a decision will be made as to whether it should continue or be expanded across the Northern Territory.
Media Contact: Xavier La Canna
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