Improving the Family Law System for Indigenous and CALD Clients

Improving the Family Law System for Indigenous and CALD Clients

4 July 2012

Indigenous and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families face a range of barriers when accessing legal, counseling and family dispute resolution services, a report by the Family Law Council has found.

Furthermore, if they do access the family law system, families from these backgrounds experience specific and significant challenges.

A number of barriers were common to both Indigenous and CALD families, including a lack of access to services that engage in culturally sensitive practice, the lack of a culturally-diverse workforce and language and literacy issues.

The Family Law Council report was commissioned by the Attorney-General’s Department, in response to research that shows that Indigenous and CALD clients are underrepresented in the family law system.

Taking into account the National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework and after talking to representatives of Indigenous and CALD communities, the council’s findings identified barriers and promoted promising and effective practices within a detailed list of recommendations.

Barriers identified by the council as more specific to Indigenous families include a culture of fear and resistance to services due to historical events such as forced removal of children, and involuntary involvement in the child protection and criminal justice systems. As a result, relationship problems after separation are often not addressed until the situation reaches a crisis point, at which time family conflict may be present and may have already escalated to family violence.

The experiences of migrant and refugee services indicate that a lack of engagement and access to family law services by CALD families can result in family breakdown, intergenerational conflict and mental health problems. As with Indigenous families, when earlier opportunities for intervention are not used, situations can reach a crisis point before services are engaged.

The Family Law Council found that while many organisations, both independent and government-funded, have developed innovative programs and services, the family law service is failing to meet the specific needs of both Indigenous and CALD families. Based on these findings, the council highly recommends a broader approach to improving access and engagement.

The Family Law Council’s recommendations include:

  • Community education;
  • Promoting / building cultural competency;
  • Building collaboration and enhancing service integration;
  • Early assistance and outreach;
  • Building an Indigenous / CALD workforce in the Family Law System;
  • Family Consultants and Liaison Officers;
  • Engagement and consultation;
  • Access to court, legal and Family Dispute Resolutions Services (includes regional and remote area access);
  • Interpreter services;
  • Torres Strait Islander Customary Adoption (Kupai Omasker);
  • Legislative review; and
  • Further research and monitoring.

For the full report with details of barriers identified as relevant to Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse families, see – Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse clients in the family law system

For further information on these topics, see:

Enhancing access to family dispute resolution for families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Enhancing family and relationship service accessibility and delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia

Family dispute resolution services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families: Closing the gap?


Hi I work in a reomote community in NT where perpetrators are often invited/able to return to the community and live in the same house with the child that they sexually assaulted.What I see is an anomoly between the community wanting to enforce cultural law/consequences and the reality of the legal system whereby if the community does enforce cultural law, which is in affect corporal punishment, they will then be charged for a serious offence under our legal system. I hear this frustation regularly from local community members, men & women.
Lee McIntosh

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Veronica Meredith

Veronica Meredith is a Research Officer with the CFCA information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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