'Parents caught up in anger': The problems plaguing Family Court
Insiders say the family law system is sinking under the weight of a backlog of cases, with more than 20,000 still to be heard at the end of 2018.
That means families are waiting up to five years for bitter child custody and property disputes to be settled, and former judges say urgent action needs to be taken.
Former Federal Circuit Court judge Stephen Scarlett said the government needed to replace retiring judges quickly rather than waiting 10 or 12 months.
The government's solution is to combine the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, but Mr Scarlett said more judges and staff were needed to cover the workload.
"Just having them all in the one court structure doesn't seem to me to be a way to enable the judges to churn through more cases," he told A Current Affair.
Former family court judge Peter Rose QC said by the end of last year, in New South Wales alone, 30 percent of family law judges retired or moved elsewhere.
"And the attorney-general, who claims to be so concerned about unacceptable delays, has not appointed, or recommended appointments for any of them," Mr Rose said.
"The rhetoric sounds great, the performance is poor."
Mum Sue said she had spent about $100,000 across eight years in the system.
"In the last custody matter it took the Family Court 22 months to make a decision that my ex-husband's claims were false and it was in my daughter's best interests to stay with me," she said.
Father-of-four Bob, who has spent $70,000 on legal fees, said it took him more than nine months to have a domestic violence allegation dismissed in the Family Court.
"I've never been in trouble with the law," he said.
"All of a sudden I'm caught up in the Family Court over a domestic violence charge."
But it is not just the workload that causes problems in the system.
Zoe Durand, who has worked as a mediator and lawyer in family law, has just released a book on the subject - Inside Family Law: Conversations From The Coalface.
"I have seen terrible matters where people are just ... they're not maybe thinking about what's best for the child, they're thinking about winning, beating the other side," she said.
She also directed some blame towards so-called "aggressive" lawyers, who spun out cases for the expensive fees they charged.
"There is a certain type of lawyer that I've come across, as soon as you see get a letter from them and you see they're acting on the other side, you think, 'Oh, I've got to double the cost estimate'," she said.
"And it shouldn't really be about that, these poor clients definitely don't know what they are wandering into."
And it appears the people who don't have a say are often the children.
Simone, who went through the Family Court as a child when her parents separated, agreed.
"I never felt like I was being listened to or that they felt my opinion mattered," she said.
"I think parents get so caught up in their own anger, they don't realise how much damage they're doing."
And the insiders say that the mums and dads also need to step back and think about someone other than themselves.
"I've seen people through what can only be described as absolute tantrums in court, I've seen people taking a really mean approach to their partner, especially when dealing with children," Mr Scarlett said.
"It's never failed to amaze me what dreadful things people do to children, and children can suffer if they're involved in the litigation process for a long period of time."
Sue, Bob and Simone told their stories to A Current Affair and were portrayed by actors in the video at the top of this article.
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