In Australia, all cases regarding children are heard at the Family Court of Australia (FCA). In 2006 the Court introduced a new way of hearing cases - less adversarial trials (LATs).
The Family Court of Australia states that a LAT's purpose is to encourage parties to act in the best interests of the child. The aim of the trial is not about winning or losing. Instead, the parties and family lawyers work together to find the solution that most benefits the child. These trials are directed closely by the judge.
LATs came into effect on July 1 2006, following changes to the Family Law Act 1975. All parenting procedures filed with the court after this time were heard using this model.
A LAT can also be used in cases regarding financial procedures if consent is granted by both parties.
How are LATs different to adversarial trials?
Much of Australia's judicial system is adversarial. This involves lawyers advocating for their respective clients. The parties' legal representatives do most of the talking, presenting the case to the judge on behalf of their clients.
A LAT allows parties to have more interaction with a judge and there is a family consultant present as an expert adviser.
Parties can speak to the judge directly about their wants and needs in regards to the children. Judges and family consultants are also able to challenge and confront parents about the effects of any conflict on their children. There is also continuity of process as the same judge and family consultant are present throughout the trial.
What are the benefits of a LAT?
During the piloting of the LAT model in 2004 and 2005, external evaluations of both adversarial trials and LATs up to December 31 2005 were undertaken. Two research reports were produced.
Dr Jennifer McIntosh of Latrobe University found that in terms of parenting capacity and child wellbeing, LATs produced better results than adversarial trials, the FCA noted.
Furthermore, Professor Rosemary Hunter of Griffith University in Queensland found that the more child-focused process had the potential to help parents cooperate in regards to the care they provided to the child.
Evaluation also found that there was an increase in satisfaction regarding the living arrangements of the children after the trials. Children were more content and emotionally stable and there were lower levels of psychological hostility among the parties after a LAT than an adversarial trial.
How to prepare for a LAT in parenting cases
There are two documents that must be filed and served 28 days before the trial - a parenting questionnaire and an undertaking as to disclosure. An expert specialist may also be required to write a family report.