PHONES RINGING HOT AS MORE PEOPLE HAVING TO ‘GO IT ALONE’ IN FAMILY COURT DUE TO COVID-19
Updated: Aug 25
In these uncertain times, there is a growing need for ‘McKenzie Friends’ to be supported and promoted by the Australian government and the Family Court system as a credible, affordable alternative to lawyers, to help families who have no other alternative available to them but to self-represent through the court process either for parenting or property, or both.
In the past few months, calls to my volunteer McKenzie Friend service have increased by thirty percent with some desperate parents even calling in at 6.30am as they try to fit in to their day:- home schooling, looking for work, standing in unemployment ques at Centrelink, money management, domestic duties, dysfunctional co-parenting communication, legal letters, border restrictions and court documents into their already emotionally charged world.
The Family Court of Australia’s 2018-19 Annual Report had ‘unrepresented litigants’ escalate to 29% of cases, with a significant increase of 16% on the prior year in the number of people without a lawyer at trials. I would be extremely interested to see the statistics now for the 2019/20 year and in particular since March 2020 with the onset of COVID-19.
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court, recently respond to a 39% increase in the number of urgent applications filed in the Courts due to COVID-19, with a dedicated list dealing exclusively with parenting disputes within 72 hours of being assessed, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence.
I have also had a small number of calls this month from people wanting to help out their partners or friends by being their McKenzie Friend, but they don’t know whether the court will allow this and what resources are available to them. This is because McKenzie Friends are not widely known in Australia, there is no industry body or accredited course if a member of the public is interested in going down this path or even making a career out of it.
I do hope the current parliamentary enquiry into the family law system looks into the various layers of assistance available to litigants and considers developing, promoting, and supporting ‘McKenzie Friends’ as a positive, improved choice for self-represented litigants in Australia. The UK has a well-established McKenzie Friend network, so maybe we could take a leaf out of their modus operandi. This would also drive up standards and bring much needed competition into the sphere of legal fees. Existing McKenzie Friend organisations could be called upon to work alongside a future regulatory body, on accreditation and/or on a centralised register, or a government grant project could start the ball rolling.
I say the old adage - two heads are better than one... makes the tumultuous court process that much easier to bear when you have someone in your corner that you can actually afford. If you feel strongly about this subject write to your local politician or the parliamentary enquiry, or register with www.mckenziefriend.org.au to be a McKenzie Friend.