Parenting management hearings – filling the gap

Posted on December 14th, 2017

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In addition to the Family Law Review currently underway, the Attorney-General has presented to Parliament a Bill to institute Parenting Management Hearings for family law disputes.

Parenting Management Hearings are intended to fill a gap between Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) and contested Court proceedings in parenting matters.  They are intended to provide self-represented litigants with an alternative to the Court process for resolving parenting disputes.

Unlike the current Court process, where two opposing sides present their case, Parenting Management Hearings will be conducted by a Panel who will undertake inquiries and gather information before reaching a decision.  The Panel will direct the lines of enquiry and the focus of the hearing; and questions will be asked by Panel members, rather than traditional cross-examination. 

It is intended that parents participating in Parenting Management Hearings would represent themselves; however the Panel may choose to permit legal representation during the hearings if a request is made.

The Panel will be required to have specialist skills and expertise in relevant fields including family law, family dispute resolution, family violence, psychology, mental health and child development, and will be an independent statutory authority.

The Panel would be empowered to make binding administrative determinations in respect of parenting arrangements for children—similar to ‘parenting orders’ currently made by the Court. The Panel will not be permitted to deal with applications involving allegations of child sexual abuse.  Determinations made by the Panel would be binding and enforceable by the Family Law Courts.

Both parents must agree to participate in Parenting Management Hearings, and no-one can be forced to participate.  Families will still be required to attempt to resolve their disputes through Family Dispute Resolution (as currently required under the Family Law Act) before participating in the Parenting Management Hearings.

The primary principles of the Parenting Management Hearings are:

  • That the hearings will be fair, just, economical, informal and prompt; and
  • That the best interests of the child will be the paramount consideration.

As part of the process, families would be linked to other support services, such as counselling and family violence services, with the intention of minimizing the intensity and duration of conflict, and to try to provide support to families and children.

In the pilot locations (initially Parramatta, with another location to be announced in late 2018), Parenting Management Hearings are intended to provide access to a different type of forum for parents in conflict and encourage a cultural shift away from litigation in the Courts. While the pilot may help to ease the workload of the Courts – which are currently experiencing significant delays due to increased filings and reducing resources – it is not intended to replace the Courts or other important services that help parents to resolve their disputes.

The Parenting Management Hearings are intended to encourage and support families to resolve their parenting disputes in a prompt and informal way, through a more user-friendly and less-adversarial forum than the traditional Court system.

Ashleigh John, Associate Director at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors, NewcastleAshleigh John is an Associate Director and Accredited Specialist at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors and practices extensively in Family, Relationship and Matrimonial LawIf you require any assistance in this area please contact Ashleigh John to arrange a consultation or contact our Newcastle office.

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