The non-adversarial approach to child custody agreements

Date: Jan 19, 2012

In Australia, the courts that handle child custody was traditionally based around an adversarial system.

This used to mean that a court hearing would operate on a similar basis as those used in criminal proceedings - with one side making a case and the other defending.

While this may be beneficial in some circumstances, for family law matters hearings it was found to be disruptive.

This was because the system essentially encouraged conflict by pitting partner against partner in an ongoing exchange to determine who would have the rights to raise a couple's children.

In the end this was found to result in longer court sessions as conflict was strengthened between ex-partners and emotions were heightened.

On top of this, the older system encouraged the parties to communicate to the judges through their family lawyers which in some cases could result in misunderstandings about legal matters - as the parents would often feel as if they were not in direct control.

Eventually it was decided that this system was having an adverse effect on the parties involved, inflating expenses and potentially causing the children involved an unenviable level of stress and discomfort.

In response to this, the Family Court delivered what is known as a Less Adversarial Trial (LAT) system to try and resolve separations with a minimum of conflict - lessening the negative impact on all concerned.

The LAT scheme requires more direct intervention on behalf of the presiding judge and is aimed at focusing the attention of the partners on achieving the best possible outcome for their children.

This process attempts to deliver a reasoned, collaborative approach to the child custody arrangements - easing away from the conflict-oriented procedures that focused on a particular side "winning" or "losing" a case.

Instead, parents and their family lawyers - if they choose to make use of their services - are encouraged to work together while considering how they can provide a solution that gives their children the best chance at life.

The flexible process is able to take into account a range of factors that could affect the dependents - providing results that are tailored to meet the needs of each family as an individual case rather than delivering what seems like an arbitrary result based entirely on legislative protocol.

According to an official review, the LAT system as produced higher levels of satisfaction with post-separation living arrangements, lower levels of "psychological hostility" in partners and is less damaging to the relationship between parents and their children.