What to expect in an Australian Family Law Court?
July 7, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

What can my SIL expect when going to a custody hearing in a South Australian court? Not seeking legal advice as she has a really good lawyer so much as an idea of what will happen procedure wise.

Sorry for all the details, but I thought the information would help target the sort of advice we are seeking a little better.

My SIL is leaving my brother. He has become addicted to drugs, and his previous abilities to be charming have turned into narcissism and the nastiest emotional manipulation of my SIL and mother you can think of. My SIL is a shattered shell and can barely make it through a day and my mother totally "on her side" and supporting her as well as she can emotionally while going through the added stress of watching her son destroy his life and trying to control my Mother with threats of not being able to see her Grandchildren or getting her "put away" for dementia, (which she doesn't have). There are 2 children involved, my niece and nephew, and because my brother won't come to any sort of 50/50 custody agreement and is insisting on full custody, my SIL is going to court. The trial date has been set and my mother has done an affidavit and will be going with my SIL to support her on the day (my SIL's family and I are all in another country so my mother is pretty much all the family she has left that can be there).

My brother has pretty much broken my SIL, she cannot even be in the same room as him without panic attacks and he has her too scared to say anything around him, English is also her second language and when stressed has trouble thinking of the right words. My brother is a smooth talking and articulate person that used to be able to charm anyone into giving him anything though the drugs are taking their toll on this. We are all concerned he will charm the judge and yet again get things exactly how he wants them, he is assuming this will be the outcome too.

Things my SIL would like to know about are, will the judge make sure that my brother does not speak to my SIL or intimidate her in anyway? Will my brother be able to speak over my SIL? Is she likely to have to talk to everyone or will her lawyer do all the talking? My mother has done an affidavit, will she be likely to have to testify? She is more than willing to to protect her grandkids, but would like some idea of what to expect. Oh and because my brother is a jerk he is probably going to bring at least one of the kids to the trial to try and use her against my SIL, can my SIL/her lawyer insist the child be removed from the room? My SIL has a lot of friends that would like to go and support her, would they be allowed to sit in the gallery to offer moral support?

Any and all ideas of what can happen in a not very amicable family court session in Australia appreciated.
posted by wwax to Law & Government (5 answers total)
Her lawyer should be able to answer these questions.
posted by kindall at 3:21 PM on July 7, 2013

As well as her lawyer, you could contact the SA Women's Information Service. If they can't help themselves, they will certainly be able to refer you to someone who can. As a backup, the Legal Services Commission (SA's Legal Aid office) has a helpline. Regarding the threats against your mother, the Aged Rights Advocacy Service might be able to provide some support.
posted by t0astie at 3:41 PM on July 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. I have forwarded the info on, the info for my Mum is great thanks. Her lawyer has answered some of her questions, but takes a very trust me I'll handle everything stance as my SIL is very fragile at the moment. He is a highly recommended lawyer and I am sure will handle everything on the day.

I think my SIL is just wanting to go in with as much info as possible on what will be happening so she can process it before hand and concentrate on not being overwhelmed on the day and making her panic/anxiety attacks worse. Unfortunately as I am the only one out of the three of us with internet skills she is asking me all the questions and I have no idea.
posted by wwax at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2013

Best answer: Hi there,

I am a South Australian, mum of 1, who has been in a similar situation to your SIL although not as severe.

Firstly, she has nothing to fear. At my first hearing I did not speak, my ex did not speak, only the lawyers spoke and it was over very quickly.

Secondly, he will NOT get full custody. There is no such thing as full custody any more, and judges want to get as close to 50% shared parenting as possible in ideal cases. If your SIL is stable, which she sounds like she is as a mum, then there is no way her child will be taken from her. Judges have seen it all before and so they are wise to the tricks your bother is playing, as long as her lawyer knows the situation then it will hopefully be expressed in court.

The Family Court no longer want to see couples arguing about these things and so it usually goes to mediation (both independent and court appointed) and if this happens it can be done in separate rooms so that the two do not speak directly to each other. Relationships Australia have great free services and I was told that both my ex and I had to go to a mediation information session first (separately) basically to butter us up ready to make progress at mediation.

I wonder if this will just be temporary orders for your SIL and then they will have to mediate to try and work out a compromise. In any way all she needs to do is express that she is intimidated by him and there are all kinds of procedures in place for that event.

I'm sorry to hear she is going through this awful time. She is suffering from emotional abuse and perhaps getting some advice/counselling (try Relationships Aus) could help her work through the issues, but also will strengthen her case should it go to court again.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:09 PM on July 7, 2013

Oh and it's not a court like you see on TV. More like a room with the judge and typist up front. Lawyers stand up and mum and dad sit behind them.

I would definitely check with her lawyer before inviting anyone else to attend. My partner came with me but I think he stayed outside and it was only myself and my ex allowed in. I do not think it would be appropriate for a child to be there.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:13 PM on July 7, 2013

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