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The Family law Navigator in the ALRC Issues Paper

By March 27, 2018No Comments

As Australia continues with its concerted efforts to reform our family law system, here at Alliance Legal we are taking a closer look at the questions and issues raised in the Issues Paper recently released as part of the ALRC’s review of the family law system.  One of the major problems for Australians has been barriers to accessing justice in the family law arena, and one of the possible solutions up for discussion is the idea of creating the role of Family Law Navigator.

Improving access to the family law system not only requires that it be made more affordable for all, but also that individuals are able to easily traverse the system rather than be forced out through the daunting nature of the court process.  In the section titled “Access to information and navigation assistance”, the ALRC asks how access can be improved through better navigation assistance through the system.  Question 3 asks “In what ways could access to information about family law and family law related services, including family violence services, be improved?”. Question 4 asks, “How might people with family law related needs be assisted to navigate the family law system?”.

One solution put forward for discussion by the ALRC is that the role of Family Law Navigator be created to help individuals and families from the moment they first make contact with the family law system to resolution of their matter. Along the way, the Family Law Navigator would help people engage with whichever services they may require to deal with a variety of legal and support needs.  The Family Law Navigator would assist individuals and families to work out which services are going to be relevant to their needs, and where required, help them through the court process as well. Such navigators, essentially case workers, would obviously need to be appropriately trained and qualified.

The ALRC Issues Paper points to other successful uses of navigators, such as in the health sector where navigators have been in place since the 1990s to remove barriers to access to health services. Patients are assisted to “access information, engage with services, coordinate multiple service providers, overcome language, cultural, economic barriers and service mistrust as well as to support patients to advocate for themselves”.

Also noted, as a precedent in the justice sector, is the existing role of the Neighbourhood Justice Officer (NJO) at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, Victoria.  The NJO assists court clients with accessing information and services (mental health, financial counselling, rehabilitation services, etc) and can also report to a court on a client’s progress.

In the family law sector specifically, navigation assistance does currently occur in Australia, with the role of the Family Safety Practitioner, a component of the Family Safety Model run by Relationships Australia Victoria. The FSP identifies service needs of each family member, facilitates warm referrals to these services (ie legal advice, counselling or housing assistance), supports people’s transition between services, and monitors a family’s engagement with the service.  The ALRC also points out that the Government’s recent introduction of the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) also contributes to helping with navigation assistance within the family law system. FASS can provide people with information and legal advice regarding relevant state and territory matters in addition to federal family law matters and provides warm referrals to support services for clients.

The Issues Paper also asks how technology could also be put to good use in helping families navigate the system.  Other court systems have taken the lead with digital.   For example, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s Court Triage Services and mobile app “which provide a digital link and coordination system for registry staff, judicial officers, lawyers, clinicians and court users”.  Clients can have SMS alerts sent to their phone with updates on their case’s progress and reminders about upcoming court dates.  It could also be modelled on a program out of the UK, CourtNav, which “assists self-represented litigants to understand procedural requirements and walks them through the process of completing forms using questions online”.

What do you think–is having s dedicated Family Law Navigator a great idea to help families better move through the family court system? Have your say by responding to the ALRC’s call for public comment on its newly released Issues Paper (see our previous blog on the ALRC Issues Paper <a href=”http://“>here).

You can access the ALRC paper here and you can respond and make submissions until 7 May 2018 here.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.


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