BACK TOGETHER: Hayley and Aiden Thomas with their two youngest children, Elijah, 2, and Elliot, 18 weeks. The couple reunited a
BACK TOGETHER: Hayley and Aiden Thomas with their two youngest children, Elijah, 2, and Elliot, 18 weeks. The couple reunited a

New laws aim to keep families out of courts

By NERIDA BLOK nblok@northernstar.com.au

HAYLEY and Aiden Thomas say new laws that will force couples into mediation could have saved them from one of the most difficult periods of their life.

A new family law system will accompany 15 family relationship centres being rolled out across Australia in July next year.

Lismore has been chosen as one of the locations for the Federal Government-funded centres.

New legislation will require couples with children seeking divorce to obtain a certificate proving they have attended up to three hours of three joint dispute resolution meetings.

Hayley, 26, and Aiden, 31, moved to Lismore from Perth in 1998 for a lifestyle change, but ended up separating, citing financial pressures from an extended period of unemployment and the lack of a support network.

The couple, who now have three children, Ethan, 5, Elijah, 2, and Elliot, 18 weeks, reunited, but agreed a family relationship service may have helped them.

"It was probably the worst time in my adult life," Hayley said.

"We did attend some voluntary counselling before we got back together and it helped a lot."

Visiting Lismore yesterday, Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the centres would be located in areas with increasingly high numbers of families with young children and high numbers of divorced, separated families and/or blended families.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001 Census, Lismore falls within the highest range in the country for divorces, with 151 to 472 divorces per 1000 people.

Lismore also ranked fifth-highest in the State for Centrelink payments to single female parents.

Interrelate Family Services are supportive of the Government initiative and are currently preparing to submit a tender by December to run the Lismore centre.

Interrelate North Coast area manager Kevin Perris believes the centres are a preventative measure which are 'very much about keeping couples out of court'.

Mr Perris said the centres were also an information centre for people to find out more on a broad range of issues such as premarriage, living together, first child and court information.

Margaret Cameron, a Lismore solicitor specialising in family law at McKenzie Cox, said the centres were a 'fantastic' idea and a 'step forward'.

"I think alternative dispute resolution is definitely the way for families to deal with children's issues," Ms Cameron said.

"A court is an artificial approach which doesn't help children's issues. The minute they walk in they are stressed.

"The whole process is stressful for a family already suffering.

"People need the resources to be able to resolve issues and not have a judge, who has a limited idea of the background about them and their children, make the determination."



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