Friday, May 23, 2008

The Australian - "Childless de factos in Family Court win" by Patricia Karvelas

DE FACTO couples without children will be given access to the Family Court to settle property disputes after they split up under sweeping changes announced by the Rudd Government.

Current laws deny de facto heterosexual couples without children access to the Family Court.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Government wanted to create a more consistent family law system.

De facto couples with children already have access to the Family Court but those who do not are confined to state Supreme Courts to settle property disputes.

"The Government's platform is to ensure family law applies in a consistent and uniform way to de facto relationships across Australia," Mr McClelland said.

The decision to grant de facto couples without children access to the Family Court for property disputes will cut their legal bills. Specialist Family Court mediators are available for tens of thousands of dollars less than in the Supreme Court system.

It is understood the Government will also extend access to the Family Court to same-sex couples on the basis that they will now be regarded as de facto couples on equal footing to heterosexuals.

This follows a push by former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson, who has written to Mr McClelland to urge him also to consider giving gay and lesbian couples access to the Family Court.

The appeal to Mr McClelland comes as the Government introduces reforms giving equal financial and workplace entitlements to same-sex de facto partners.

"As a long-time supporter of equal legal treatment for same-sex couples and their families, I want to see the Government's proposed reform remove as much discrimination as possible," Professor Nicholson said in a statement.

"Like their heterosexual counterparts, same-sex partners should be able to settle property and maintenance disputes in the Family Court rather than be forced through the more cumbersome and expensive state Supreme Court system, as is currently the case.

"It's also important for the Government to give state and territory civil union registries full and equal status in federal law so that same-sex couples can access federal entitlements through these schemes."

The move will be fought by the Christian lobby, which does not want gay and lesbian couples to have access to the Family Court if they do not have children.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle said in a statement yesterday she would pursue the Government on the issue of same-sex access to courts during next week's Senate estimates hearings.

"The Government needs to ensure that they include the recognition of registered same-sex relationships in their same-sex law reform package that we are due to see next week," Senator Nettle said.

"Labor cannot have a bob each way on discrimination; either they support equal rights or they are for discrimination."

[Link: Original Article]

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