Indigenous families and the Family Law Courts
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The Family Law Courts strive to provide a culturally appropriate service. Court staff are trained to be sensitive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Court staff are able to provide Indigenous clients with a range of information and services to help resolve problems they may have due to separation and divorce.
Where possible, the Family Law Courts encourage all clients to reach agreement so they do not need a court hearing. When a person first comes to the courts they may be referred to dispute resolution.
For parenting matters, the Court may:
- refer the family to community-based family counselling or family dispute resolution, or
- arrange for a conference with a court-based family consultant who will talk to the family and help them reach an agreement about the children.
For financial matters, the Court may:
- refer the parties to dispute resolution, or
- arrange a conference with a court registrar who will talk to the parties and try to help them reach agreement.
If the family can’t come to an agreement, a Federal Circuit Court judge may hear the case and make a determination.
Children and their Indigenous culture
Australia’s family law legislation requires the Family Law Courts to make decisions based on the best interests of the children. The most important things they consider are:
- the benefit to children of having meaningful relationships with both parents, and
- the need to protect children from physical or psychological harm.
The law also recognises the importance of children keeping a connection with their Indigenous culture after family breakdown and separation. See section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975.
The Court looks at many things when deciding what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, such as:
- The lifestyle, culture and traditions of the children and their parents.
- The rights of a child to enjoy his or her culture, including the right to enjoy that culture with other people who share that culture.
- Any kinship relationships that may impact on the child.
- The child-rearing practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
If required, the Court will try to appoint a person who understands Indigenous culture to help it decide the best arrangements for an Indigenous family. An Indigenous adviser may be appointed when the parties see a family consultant, a registrar or a judicial officer.
The adviser does not represent the Indigenous person or translate; they help the Court understand the relevant cultural issues so the Court can provide a culturally appropriate service. They make sure:
- the court process is not culturally biased
- the Indigenous party (parties) has a good chance to present their views, and
- the court process is sensitive to and responsive to Indigenous needs.
Court staff can arrange an Indigenous interpreter if a person is having difficulty understanding the staff or communicating in English.
Indigenous status on court forms
Some court forms ask about a person’s culture, including Indigenous status. For example:
“Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?”
This question is also asked by health services, schools, universities and other Commonwealth departments, such as Centrelink.
It is not compulsory to answer this question, but all answers help the Court plan and deliver services to Indigenous people.
When a person indicates they are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, the Court provides them with information about specific services for Indigenous families. There is no obligation to use these services, though they may be helpful.
The information is kept on the person’s Court file and is available only to Court staff involved in the case; for example, the judicial officer, the parties to the proceedings and their lawyers.
The Court collects this information so it can know more about families who choose to use the Court and its services. It is then better able to respond to the individual and specific needs of families, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Making the court process easier
The Court has procedures to help all clients feel safe at court and comfortable that they are being heard.
To help the Court meet their needs, clients should tell staff if they have any needs or problems, including:
- concerns about their safety or the safety of their family when attending court
- if they have a current Family Violence Order
- if they would like an interpreter, and
- if they would like a family member or support person to come to court with them.
It is also important for clients to:
- give the Court complete and accurate information
- let the Court know if they can’t attend a scheduled conference or court event, and
- attend all court appointments and hearings unless excused by the Court.
To assist Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families resolve their divorce and separation issues, information and services are available from the Family Law Courts, Family Relationship Centres and Indigenous Legal Aid Services.
Family Law Courts
The Family Law Courts work hard to respect cultural protocols and staff are culturally trained to assist Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. They can provide verbal information and publications about family law, how the courts work and special programs of the courts.
If you want to know more about the Family Law Courts or get copies of publications, call us on 1300 352 000, or go to the Publication section of this website.
Family Relationship Centres
Some Family Relationship Centres have Indigenous staff who can offer advice and assistance. Call 1800 050 321 or go to www.familyrelationships.gov.au for more information.
Indigenous Legal Aid Services
Indigenous legal aid service may be able to offer help to Indigenous clients who need legal help and do not have a lawyer.
ACT/New South Wales: Aboriginal Legal Service: (02) 8842 8000
Victoria: Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 1800 865 064
North Queensland: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Community Legal Services: (07) 4722 5111
South Queensland: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service: 1800 012 255
Western Australia: Aboriginal Legal Service: 1800 019 900
South Australia: Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement: 1800 643 222
Tasmania: Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre: 1800 132 260
Far Northern Territory: Aboriginal Justice Agency: 1800 898 251
Southern Northern Territory: Aboriginal Legal Aid Service: 1800 636 079