What we do

We assist people to resolve their family disputes to achieve safe, workable and child-focused parenting and care arrangements. We also assist parents to build their capacity to resolve future disputes without legal assistance.

Read more about the work of our Family, Youth and Children's Law sub-programs.

Our services

Services we provide through our Family, Youth and Children’s Law program include:

  • duty lawyer, legal advice, representation and information services in Commonwealth family law matters, and at the Family Law Courts, including in parenting disputes, family violence matters, and financial and child support matters
  • lawyer-assisted and child-inclusive family dispute resolution to help settle disputes without going to court
  • independent children’s lawyers who promote the interests of children at risk and help judicial officers make good decisions
  • duty lawyer, legal advice, representation and information services to children and parents in the Children's and Magistrates' courts of Victoria, including in child protection and family violence matters
  • legal advice and education in the community.

Read our Family, Youth and Children's Law services facts and figures.

Clients

  • 31,600 unique clients* (up by 3%)
  • 17% presented with two family law problems and 10% with three to five
  • 5,660 or 18% from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds**
  • 1,240 or 4% from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds

* These are clients who accessed one or more services during the year, including early intervention services, duty lawyer services, dispute resolution services and grants of legal assistance.

** This is based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It includes people who speak a language other than English at home and people who were born in a non-English-speaking country.

Program operating expenditure*

Income sources Expenditure % expenditure
Commonwealth $34.7 million 77.1% of Commonwealth expenditure
State $18.2 million 19.4% of state expenditure
Total $52.9 million 38.2% of total expenditure

* This excludes expenditure for community legal centres.

Key achievements

Comprehensive review of family law legal aid services

We completed a comprehensive review of Commonwealth family law legal aid services to ensure they are fair, as widely available as possible and sustainable. We mapped family law services across Victoria, analysed external information and research, met with over 50 stakeholders and received 29 written submissions in response to a public Consultation and Options Paper we released in January 2015.

We announced the outcomes of the review in late June and have committed to implementing 35 actions to enhance client and community outcomes through improved client access and intake, improved service quality, timely intervention in legal problems across all family law programs, targeting intensive services to priority clients, and providing additional supports to independent children’s lawyers. Actions will be implemented over the next three years.

A voice for children and young people in family law proceedings

Children are often the subject or focus of serious legal proceedings, including in family violence, child protection and family law matters. We have significant expertise and experience providing quality legal help to this vulnerable client group. 

Our response to the final report of the Independent Children’s Lawyers Study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies included training for our newly established Independent Children’s Lawyer Panel practitioners on meeting with children. We are also delivering an ongoing suite of training and development to support high quality legal help on behalf of children in the family law courts. In addition we established an independent children’s lawyers working group involving the Family and Federal Circuit Courts.

Community legal centre family and children’s law pilot

We began a two-year pilot in collaboration with two community legal centres to test a new way of delivering services to vulnerable clients and achieve better outcomes for families with child protection and family law problems. The pilot will seek to address clients’ family and children’s law-related issues by providing an intensive service to clients at a point that is likely to help prevent the escalation of those problems. 

Under the pilot, Women’s Legal Service Victoria and Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre will deliver alternative duty lawyer services to children and parents presenting to the Family Division of the Children’s Court sitting in Moorabbin, Bendigo and surrounding courts, and at the pilot Family Drug Treatment Court. The centres will also respond to the ongoing casework needs of those clients in child protection, family law, family violence and other legal matters.

Practice experience informing system improvements

This year we engaged in a number of important public inquiries. Most notably, we contributed to a substantial submission to the current Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. We also made a significant submission to the Family Law Council inquiry on issues experienced by families with complex needs, making a number of recommendations to better support vulnerable children who are the focus of legal proceedings in the family law, family violence and child protection jurisdictions.

We made a submission to and appeared at the public hearings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program, making recommendations to simplify and improve the child support system, particularly the change of assessments process and in relation to cases involving family violence.

Ten years of helping families in dispute

We marked 10 years of resolving children’s and property issues for separated families by renaming our Roundtable Dispute Management service. Now known as the Family Dispute Resolution Service, the new name more clearly tells clients what we do and reflects the terminology used by the family courts.

We began developing new software and business processes to enable us to reach greater numbers of disadvantaged Victorian families, while maintaining high quality case managed assistance for clients.

Providing conferences and developing mediation practice

We again provided over 1,000 conferences, and also further developed our mediation practice to support children caught up in high conflict international parental child abduction cases. Mediation in these cases takes place alongside Hague child abduction proceedings in the Family Court of Australia. While relatively small in number, timely mediation can make a real difference to these children’s lives and may substantially reduce the length, stress and costs of court proceedings.

Challenges

Meeting high demand while providing consistent high quality services

In our submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence we note the critical role played by family violence legal help but also our current inability to meet the demand for that help.

In particular, growing public awareness of the unacceptability of family violence and more effective system-wide responses have continued to impact significantly on demand. We have seen a 5 per cent increase in unique clients with a 6 per cent increase in services. Family violence matters are also increasingly more complex, involving clients with various interrelated legal and social issues. This has informed our approach to dedicated training, a revised family violence service delivery model, and the opening of a specialist family violence panel.

The challenge to meet demand while maintaining high quality services also persisted across our family law and child protection services. While we are to begin a comprehensive review of child protection legal services in the coming year, ultimately we will need additional investment to meet growing demand for help in this important legal area.

Future challenges

In 2015–16 we expect to see:

  • high demand for family violence legal help and the need for us to respond in ways that aim to meet individual client needs and community expectations, as well as any Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations
  • increased demand for child protection legal services due to initiatives like recent amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, the opening of the new Broadmeadows Children’s Court and additional state funding to significantly increase the number of child protection workers
  • access to family law legal aid services will remain inaccessible for many people, necessitating a greater commitment to working with others to improve options for self-represented litigants.

Outlook

Implementing actions arising from the Family Law Legal Aid Services Review will involve clarifying, simplifying and refining Commonwealth family law guidelines to ensure we are appropriately targeting our most intensive services and enhancing assistance for vulnerable clients. This will include broadening access to our Family Dispute Resolution Service. Other changes will re-calibrate the delivery of our most intensive services.

In the coming year we will also revise our family violence service delivery approach to support our lawyers to provide consistent, effective and holistic assessments and responses to all clients affected by family violence, and which contribute to safer immediate and long-term outcomes for clients and families. We will increase our family violence services at high demand locations and address regional service gaps. While the additional $2.1 million we received for one year in the 2015–16 state budget to increase family violence legal assistance services is welcomed, we will still not be able to sustain increased service provision without securing recurrent additional funding.

We will begin a comprehensive review of our child protection legal services, driven by our commitment in Strategy 2015–18 to invest in timely intervention especially for children and young people.

We will also build on existing outreach activities by identifying access points, enhancing engagement with the community sector and improving referral pathways.