The Court strives to provide a culturally appropriate service and 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.

Attending court

Where possible, the Court encourages all clients to reach agreement so they do not need a court hearing. When a person first comes to court they may be referred to dispute resolution.

Where possible, the Court encourages all clients to reach agreement so they do not need a court hearing. When a person first comes to court 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. 

The court process

The Court has procedures to help all clients feel safe at court and comfortable that they are being heard.

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. 

Children and their Indigenous culture

Australia’s family law legislation requires the courts to make decisions based on the best interests of the children. The most important things the courts 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, and
  • the child-rearing practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. 

Indigenous advisers

If required, the Court will try to appoint a person who understands Indigenous culture to help 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. 

Indigenous interpreters

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, 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. 

Initiatives for Indigenous clients

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan

The Family Court has a long history in promoting and improving access to justice for Indigenous families dating back to 1993. In 2004 it developed the Family Court Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan and an Indigenous Plan for 2010 to 2013.

In 2013 the Chief Justice set up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee to ensure that the Court’s administration and judiciary work hand in hand to enable and facilitate participation of Indigenous Australians in court processes.

The Court has consulted widely with Indigenous people and through its Indigenous Plan 2014–2016, has identified and sought to make its services more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

Some of the measures adopted by the Family Court include cross-cultural education for judicial officers, registrars and family consultants within the Court; the creation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander positions; the provision of appropriate information and referrals, and the continued development of relationships with key organisations and elders in the community.

At present the Court is developing a Reconciliation Action Plan and is responding to the recommendation of the Family Law Council’s 2012 report on improving the family law system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

Reconciliation Action Plan

The Federal Circuit Court Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is the first to be developed by an Australian court.

The RAP was prepared and written in collaboration with Reconciliation Australia after Chief Judge Pascoe recognised the opportunity to do so, following on from the work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee’s report at the end of 2013 and following the Committee’s consultation with legal services who work directly with Aboriginal communities, health services, family violence prevention units and community welfare services. Judge Matthew Myers AM, the first Aboriginal to sit on a Federal Court bench, was also actively involved in the development of the plan.

The RAP outlines real and practical measures to achieve reconciliation, build stronger relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients with better access to justice and the family law system through tailored services and procedures. It contains 13 specific practical measures that the Court will adopt across four focus areas, including:

  • relationships – providing access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Federal Circuit Court and providing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to build relationships with judges, court and registry staff
  • respect – improving awareness within the Court by developing appropriate cultural competency training to better enhance our delivery of judicial services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and establishing productive partnerships with appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agencies and elders
  • opportunities – developing opportunities for members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to enhance their educational and career prospects, through offering placements and work experience opportunities for law students/graduates and through establishing traineeships and work experience for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and
  • tracking progress and reporting – reporting on achievements and challenges to Reconciliation Australia and investigating other means to track the RAP progress and report on what has been achieved.

See the Reconciliation Action Plan for more information.

Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting

Family reports are an important tool to assist in resolving or determining family law disputes over children, and judges often rely heavily on the assessments in family reports as evidence. Consequently there are often many questions and issues that clients and the legal profession have about the quality and validity of the family reports and how the assessments are conducted. 

In Australia there has, until now, not been any public document designed to inform the judiciary, the legal profession or the clients as to what can be expected as the minimum standards in the process of preparing family reports.

In order to address this issue, the Court has drafted the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, basing the principles on the existing practice guidelines for Child Dispute Services and similar documents from overseas, such as the guidelines produced by the United States-based Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). The Australian Standards address the local context and assessment of such important issues as family violence, cultural issues and issues for Indigenous clients.

In order to address this issue, the Court has drafted the Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, basing the principles on the existing practice guidelines for Child Dispute Services and similar documents from overseas, such as the guidelines produced by the United States-based Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). The Australian Standards address the local context and assessment of such important issues as family violence, cultural issues and issues for Indigenous clients.

Indigenous cultural competence

Given the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing the family law system, it was identified that Child Dispute Services should have a staff member at each family law registry trained in conducting culturally sensitive assessments. As such, Aboriginal Forensic Psychologist, Mr Stephen Ralph, was commissioned to develop and deliver two training sessions which were held in Sydney in February 2014 and Townsville in May 2014. All staff located at these registries were required to attend, with a representative from nearby registries also attending. As a result of this training initiative, there is now a staff member in each region (and most sub-registries) who is trained in how to approach assessments with Aboriginal litigants. 

Publications, papers and reports

Indigenous Action Plan Family Court of Australia 2014–16

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Profiles: a Resource for the Courts

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Profiles: a Resource for the Courts

Reconciliation Action Plan 2014–16: Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Indigenous Australians and Family Law Litigation: Indigenous perspectives on access to justice

Indigenous Australians and Family Law Litigation: Indigenous perspectives on access to justice

Indigenous families and the courts

Indigenous families and the courts 

Getting help

To assist Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander families resolve their divorce and separation issues, information and services are available from the courts, Family Relationship Centres and Indigenous Legal Aid Services.

The courts work hard to respect cultural protocols and staff are culturally trained to assist Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. Court staff can provide information and publications about family law, how the courts work and special programs of the courts.

If you want to know more about the courts or get copies of publications, call us on 1300 352 000, or go to the Publication section of this website.

If you want to know more about the courts or get copies of publications, call us on 1300 352 000, or go to the Publication section of this website.

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