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Children to benefit in family law changes

Briefs

Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p.12

Changes to commonwealth family law eligibility guidelines for legal aid have been given a cautious welcome by the LIV.

The new guidelines, announced by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) after consultation with the courts, Victorian Bar, the federal Attorney-General’s Department, community legal centres, family relationship centres and the LIV, were introduced on 1 November.

The deputy chair of the LIV’s Family Law Section, Stephen Gregory, said the bulk of the LIV’s concerns – which it had raised in a five-page submission to VLA – had been addressed under the revised guidelines.

“We are quite pleased with the outcome,” he told the LIJ. “However, our overriding concern remains and that is the continued lack of funding for Victoria Legal Aid. This overall lack of funding is something we have been harping on about for some time now and we will continue our lobbying efforts in relation to both the commonwealth and state Attorneys-General.”

The changes to eligibility criteria mean available funding is being directed towards children, rather than adults. There is a focus on keeping families out of court by expanding the use of mediation such as VLA’s roundtable dispute management service.

Grants of legal assistance for litigation in family law matters are now only available in limited circumstances and there is no funding for divorces.

“The focus is certainly on the children,” Mr Gregory said. “One of the most important things to have been done is confirmation of the abolition of quotas for Independent Children’s Lawyers which we applaud.”

The LIV has been concerned the shift in funding priorities away from parents to their children could lead to an imbalance in representation, with one party in a dispute able to afford private legal representation with the other unable to qualify for legal aid.

LIV president Caroline Counsel wrote in a blog post earlier this year: “[The latter] is likely to be most often women, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have been at home with the children and not working”

The LIV was also concerned about a potential rise in self-represented litigants in court.

“Time will tell whether that is the case,” Mr Gregory said.

For full details of the changes see www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/3672.htm.

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