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Federal Magistrate Donald - Parramatta Federal Magistrates Court (Family Law)

A few hours observation of Federal Magistrate Donald in action. He spoke in a controlled manner, seemed courteous to everyone, and seemed to have a positive disposition.

Today I got the opportunity to sit in on a court room at Parramatta Federal Magistrates Court with Federal Magistrate Donald.

On the courtlist, he had a listing of 38 case names, and he was scheduled to start at 9.30am.

When I got there and came out of the lifts, I saw many people mingling around in the foyers, and all the court rooms seemed to have their doors closed. I expected to see doors open so I was not certain what was going on at that point.

I then overheard a young solicitor tell her client that it was morning tea (from 11.10 to 11.30am).

At 11.30am the doors to courtroom 4 opened and I was able to walk through with about a dozen other people and sit on the provided seating near the back of the room. The doors were then closed behind us.

Being that the courtroom was quite small, all comments from the applicants, respondents and magistrate could be easily heard. Of further interest was the facial expression of the magistrate, which was clearly visible from where I was sitting, and which would often provide an insight into his thoughts.

FM Donald walked in, everyone stood up, and after he seated himself, everyone sat back on their seats.

He spoke in a controlled manner, seemed courteous to everyone, and seemed to have a positive disposition.

Although I was only there for two hours, I was able to make some observations about the general events around these proceedings, as well as certain comments from the magistrate which may indicate a leaning he has on some matters.

Firstly, I was surprised by the number of non-attendences. In fact, possibly 30% of the cases listed had no-one turn up at all. A further 30% had only one party turn up.

I also learned a new term. When needing time to follow something up, clarify a point or seek an opportunity to negotiate with the other party, you can ask to be "stood down", which effectively drops your case down the list for the day, and you can then re-appear in front of the magistrate later that day.

Regarding FM Donald himself, he made some pertinent comments in two hearings that I believed evidenced some insight into his thinking.

(1) In one case, there was a couple who were both self-representing, and were seeking orders for divorce. One of the side issues was, as alleged by the father, the mother's refusal to allow him access to his 3 children.

Although the mother denied this allegation, FM Donald took a dim view of this possibility, and seemed eager to make an order against it. He could not however because the matter was to be addressed by the Family Court soon, however he made it clear that he did not believe the mother, and implied a disatisfaction with the mother's behaviour regarding access.

(2) On another hearing, a self-represented father was up against the lawyer for his wife.

The father claims that every attempt at mediation had failed at the final hurdle, and so he was looking at the court to settle the outstanding issue.

According to the father, the out-standing issue was the mother's refusal to allow someone from the father's family (including his current partner), to take the child to school when the child resided with the father, in the event that the father could not due to some emergency.

FM Donald directed his comments to the mother's solicitor, and called this objection "silly". He then asked the lawyer to pass on these sentiments to the mother, and basically prodded the lawyer to convince his client to drop this objection.

The lawyer agreed, but then raised another issue, that of the mother's wish to relocate to the southcoast, adding an extra 1.5 hours drive time between the father's residence and hers.

I was somewhat stunned by the effort that FM Donald made to explain his support for an Australian's right to relocate, even referring to the constitution. He then said that he came from the Northern Territory, and he considered 1.5 hours not to be that significant.

I don't know, maybe I missed something, but what about the schooling of the child? How could the child spend week-days with the father if the child was to go to school in the morning to the south coast?

In any event, I felt FM Donald put too much emphasis on the rights of a person to move where they chose, without any thought to how they would impact the contact arrangements for the father. I got the feeling that the father was told in no uncertain terms that the mother would get her request for relocation, were it to be decided by the magistrate, and I note the frustrating look on the father's fase. The hearing was however adjourned to let the parties talk further in an attempt to get to some agreement.

Given that this was my first genuine visit as an onlooker in the court, my observation would have to be consumed with some caution, however I hope that it adds a further piece of information on the profiles of the judges and magistrates who effectively determine whether we can be a parent or an onlooker in our child's life.

Last edit: by Isys

Donald

What you describe is perfectly normal! I was in Donald's court a couple of weeks ago - in fact your day sounded tame. You really do learn a lot by attending court, not only do you become more comfortable with the surroundings but you get to learn the words and style of a court room - it is great fun. You might even bump in to one of us as the last time I was there, there was 4 SRL execs in attendance.
I would recommend that every one attend court at least 3 times to get a picture of what life is like.

You might even end up having withdraw symptoms  if you do not attend court.

Executive Member of SRL-Resources, the Family Law People on the site (Look for the Avatars).   Be mindful what you post in the public areas. 
It's a real shame that relocation does not take into account the needs of the child.

Unfair Judgements

I went to family law court in front of a particular Magistrate for an interim hearing… not mentioning names. I had a hidden history of some DV and a child less than 2 years of age. I believe myself to be a reasonable and mature person. I never denied the father access to the child and even offered him to come to my house to spend time with her, feed her, bath her put her to bed without intervening but he refused and didn't want to do any of these things with our child, preferring not to see his child for over 6 months, during which time he was also on good behaviour bond and later admitted he actually didn't want to see her during that time anyway. All I wanted from the court was to start this father with assisted visitations for a short while to ensure my child's well being while in his care.

When the Magistrate entered the courtroom he took a brief look at me & my family and then at the father and his family and said that he had already made his decision and did not have much interest in what my lawyer had to say and cut her off repeatedly till it was no use. My lawyer was young and relatively new to the court but the father's lawyer & her firm were well known at that court and seemed to know this magistrate quite well (wink wink). In addition, not only am I am female but I am also ethnic while the father and his family are Australian.

The other party also made a submission to the court the night before the hearing which my lawyer tried to suppress but the magistrate allowed it and would not allow us time to respond to it. He also said that the recorded violent history was against me not directly against the child so it didn't even count.

Deep within my core I felt violated by this magistrate at the way he spoke of me and even more of the way he looked at me. It was actually disgusting!

The judgement made by this magistrate seemed to have nothing to do with the "best interest of the child" but to us seemed to lean more towards what he can give the Australian male over the ethnic female.

After we left the court room I told my lawyer that I wanted to appeal the judgement and while she too acknowledged what seemed to us to be somewhat discrimination from this magistrate she said that there is no direct proof of discrimination from him so the possibility is just more waste of money and hurting my case at the final hearing too because 'they all know each other anyway'.

It is in my personal point of view that not all judgements passed by these magistrates are in the best interest of the child (while that's what the law makes these proceedings out to be about), some judgements carry discrimination and some carry the magistrate's personal experiences too and affect the decisions they make. I believe more often than not the innocent are the ones who suffer at the hands of unfair magistrates!

I have no faith in the law because of these humanly discretions! I am posting this blog up so that others who are preparing to go to court understand that the law may not be on their side for the so called "interest of the child". Borrow money if you have to and get a lawyer that knows the magistrates and no matter what don't expect any truth from the other party.
You are giving one single view of this Federal Magistrate.

From a balanced perspective of many hearings (from SRL-R Execs) he is one of the fairer Magistrates on the bench. He also tends to read documents very carefully.

Perhaps your inexperienced solicitor presented the case badly and used the ethnic argument and better experienced other side as an excuse?

If there was a hidden history of DV it will come out. If you expected domestic violence to be a trump card in the Court - it is not UNLESS the child is at risk and you as a parent are at further risk.

Your problem may not be with Donald but with your solicitors inexperience and perhaps you not understanding the types of decision the Courts will make.

Executive Member of SRL-Resources, the Family Law People on this site (look for the Avatars) Be mindful what you post in public areas. 
It is true that it is a single view and I did make it clear that it was my view but then again isnt every case an individual case?! I was just sharing my story.

DV was not a trump card and we never even brought up ethnicity at all. I did believe myself to be Australian above all as I was raised and schooled here but it seems that my skin colour can still be an issue. Perhaps my conversing style differs a little due to ethnic influence.
If this magistrate read papers well he would have seen their written lies and if he was actually fair he would not have said that it was more important for the child to spend all of Christmas day with the fatherdiscouraging migrants to accept amalgamation. I once celebrated it as though it was my own but now I hate Christmas and this so called single view will have an affect on many. I never claimed to understand the types of decisions that a court makes, thats why we pay lawyers but the overall well being of the child (and mother for that matter) should also be given consideration in the tone that the magistrates addresses us. We are after all human beings as well not just another numbered file. Nevertheless it was still not fair of the magistrate to be this nasty. The way that we are treated and spoken about in court is just wrongin my opinion.
Exactly how were you discriminated against? You say you were but provide nothing that I can make out that says what discrimination took place. It comes across, from what you say, that you were being discriminated against simply because the decision went the other way. I myself was named a fool before all an sundry for not obtaining legal representation does that constitute discrimination based upon my ethnicity?

I guess that in a large number, perhaps even the majority, of cases that harsh words are said to parents, especially when it comes to parents not telling or being economical with the truth. Unfortunately when a matter goes to a court then it is one or both parents that are not mature enough to make an amicable, fair and just decision on behalf of the child, and that instead they have to rely upon another to make that decision. So in the interest of the child one or both parents will often deserve a lot more than just harsh words in my opinion.
JaneS said
DV was not a trump card and we never even brought up ethnicity at all.
Your reference to DV in your first post confused several moderators, we had little idea of who you were actually referring to.
JaneS said
If this magistrate read papers well he would have seen their written lies…………
How could he discern fact from fiction by just reading the materials? it is up to your legal representative to pursue the issue of accuracy in the other sides material.
JaneS said
……… should also be given consideration in the tone that the magistrates addresses us. We are after all human beings as well not just another numbered file. Nevertheless it was still not fair of the magistrate to be this nasty. The way that we are treated and spoken about in court is just wrongin my opinion.
This Magistrate is old school. If you did not like his tone then it was perhaps not understanding the process in the Court or perhaps you are being selective in reporting what actually occurred and for some reasons you received a strong rebuke?


Executive Member of SRL-Resources, the Family Law People on this site (look for the Avatars) Be mindful what you post in public areas. 

Understanding what is happening in court

JaneS said
It is true that it is a single view and I did make it clear that it was my view but then again isnt every case an individual case?! I was just sharing my story.

DV was not a trump card and we never even brought up ethnicity at all. I did believe myself to be Australian above all as I was raised and schooled here but it seems that my skin colour can still be an issue. Perhaps my conversing style differs a little due to ethnic influence.
If this magistrate read papers well he would have seen their written lies and if he was actually fair he would not have said that it was more important for the child to spend all of Christmas day with the fatherdiscouraging migrants to accept amalgamation. I once celebrated it as though it was my own but now I hate Christmas and this so called single view will have an affect on many. I never claimed to understand the types of decisions that a court makes, thats why we pay lawyers but the overall well being of the child (and mother for that matter) should also be given consideration in the tone that the magistrates addresses us. We are after all human beings as well not just another numbered file. Nevertheless it was still not fair of the magistrate to be this nasty. The way that we are treated and spoken about in court is just wrongin my opinion.
 

Hi JaneS

Reading between the lines, I suspect the hearing you attended was an interim hearing. At interim hearings, evidence is not tested for inconsistencies. If the 2 parties disagree, then the question of what are the facts is left to a final hearing where witnesses can be cross examined. The magistrate is required to make orders that encourage the child to have a relationship with both parents, if there are allegation which suggest the child may be at risk from one parent, then orders are usually made that any time that parent spendsd with the child be supervised. Where there have been problem in the past between the parents, the aim will be to minimise the number of times the parents actually meet for change over or to use a neutral place or contact sevice for change overs.

Generally I have found Federal Magistrates to be reasonably tactfull. Occasionally they do make comments, particularly to solicitors, which are blunt. The expectation is that Solicitors should professional in their behavior, well organised and present their clients case in clear manner based on the law. Always remember that it is one of your solicitors roles to give you balanced advice you on the Law and the way the Courts apply the Law.

While some magistrates at times may give the idea that they favour mothers or fathers, watching the orders they actually make shows Federal Magistrates in general to be consistent.

For example - I have heard a female Magistrate who likes to quote Social Science and refer to Primary Attachment Theory in favour of the Mother tell a mother that she had to give the Father a chance to learn to be a father.

I have heard another FM who some would consider Father friendly tell a father "I don't believe a word you have said"

Another point that has been generally accepted by the Courts is Supervision of the Other Parent by the Lives With Parent or members of their family is considered to be generally inappropriate, the person being supervised would feel extremely uncomfortable. It should be someone independent or some one the court will accept can provide any guidance needed and who will be listened to.

For me - Shared Parenting is a Reality - Maybe it can be for you too!
Hi, I am not singling out any magistrates. I thought  my posts was private seen only by the initial writer. I guess not. How do I do a private post?

Do you know any forums where separated parents can discuss their court experiences and exchange views and get advice from moderators?
To reply to a single person you click on the Whisper Button.

I believe that you can get all that you requested on here, although likely better as the moderators on here are expected to also have some expertise in the areas in which they moderate. I personally don't know of any other forums other than one that is centered around fathers, which I suspect you wouldn't want to frequent anyway.
JaneS said
Do you know any forums where separated parents can discuss their court experiences and exchange views and get advice from moderators?

There are non gender forums on this site for SRL's and others involved with the court processes. These are closed member forums which are managed by the SRL-R group.

http://flwg.com.au/srl-r/pg/start






SRL-Resources. the Family Law People on this site (look for the Avatars) www.srl-resources.org  Non gender Professional and peer support for SRLs. Closed site, no public forums, no search engines, no lurkers, guests or the other side and their Lawyer and Friends.
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