MANY of us will never see the inside of a family courtroom.
For us, the family court and federal magistrates court are mysteries, glimpsed only now and again through headlines.
Family dramas - stories about families - make headlines.
Most recently, four Sunshine Coast girls were in the media spotlight after the family court ordered that they be returned to Italy.
It ruled that their custody arrangements should be determined in Italy, where they had been living until 2010, before their mother brought them to Australia without their father's consent. Family court orders were issued to stop the children being identified. The dispute will go to the full bench of the high court in August.
In 2009, four-year-old Darcey Freeman's father dropped her off the Westgate Bridge in Victoria, as her two young brothers watched. The man, who has since been jailed for 32 years, had been involved in a custody dispute with Darcey's mum.
And four years ago, a father whose marriage had broken down, spirited away his three children from their mother's Brisbane home, sparking a statewide police manhunt. They were found in Nambour two days later.
They all came in the wake of family break-ups which ended up before a family court.
Behind the headlines, according to legal sources, the reality is that courts that deal with families do a good job in testing circumstances.
In 2010-11, more than 20 applications a day were made to the Family Court of Australia.
The court - made up of a federal magistrates court and the family court - dealt with 84,094 cases last year, up more than 9% on figures three years earlier.
About 90% of cases go before the federal magistrates court, which was created in 1999 to take pressure off the family court's dockets.
Statistics show that while rates of divorce in Australia have dropped over the past 40 years, fewer couples are marrying.
But internationally, the Australian divorce rate, at 2.2 people in every 1000 people, is high.
And de facto couples also can access the family court system if there is a relationship breakdown.
The courts can mediate and make judgments on the custody of children, and the division of property and money, as well as handling divorce applications.
The federal family court, which was established in 1975, is the superior court of the federal magistrates court.
It handles the more complex cases, often passed up by the magistrates court.
One such case was the four Coast girls, which involves the Hague Convention international agreement that Australia and Italy, among others, have signed.
Under more usual circumstances,
those who have to use the family courts to try to settle relationship breakdown disputes, often face issues that are intensely emotional and personal.
And because of that, family courts, at times aggressively protect the identities of those seeking their assistance, particularly when children are involved.
However, family court and federal magistrates court matters are generally held in open hearings.
"In Australia, (family law) covers divorce, children's orders, parenting arrangements, property division and spousal maintenance," Queensland's Family Law Practitioners' Association president Deborah Awyzio said this week.
They come under the Family Law Act 1975, a federal law which also created the Family Court of Australia.
"Child protection and domestic violence are dealt with under separate state and territory laws," she said.
Ms Awyzio, whose Brisbane practice specialises in family law, said couples whose relationship had irreparably broken down and who had children under 18 could ask the family court to determine child custody.
However, she said they were required to first access Family Disruption Resolution, a free mediation service, to try to come to an agreement.
If they could not, the case would be referred to the courts, which could make orders.
Ms Awyzio said couples, or one partner, could apply through family courts to resolve disputes over assets.
The federal magistrates and family courts also deal with divorce applications.
"The court's goal," the Family court website says, "is to deliver excellence in service for children, families and parties through effective judicial and non-judicial processes and high-quality and timely judgments.
"(It does this) while respecting the needs of separating families."
It may well do that, but both courts are handling complex issues.
And even those who have used the courts to help to sort out relationship issues admit they do not fully understand how it works.
This Woombye charmer is like something you'd find in the leafy inner suburbs of Brisbane, like Paddington or Auchenflower; tastefully renovated with lashings of...
An excellent chance to buy close to the coast-This delightful lowset home offers low maintenance living in a key location close the new hospital precinct, parks...
Located just a short 80m stroll from the stunning patrolled Marcoola Beach, this 3 bedroom double storey townhouse is located in a quiet street in the sought after...
This charming property in Brightwater is not your average 4 bedder. As you approach the front door a striking hallway that leads the eye down to your spacious...
Tucked away from the road, this Resort style complex has its benefits. Living in Palm Cove on Maroochy Waters Drive you are set to enjoy next to no maintenance...
Located in one of Buderim's most beloved streets, this tightly held home is being offered to the market for the first time in three decades, and provides a rare...
Living on the water has its obvious advantages. Fishing, kayaking or even taking the family down the river boating are some of the fabulous lifestyle opportunities...
Imagine throwing in a line for mangrove jack, or dropping in some crab pots directly from your front yard! The ideal Queensland lifestyle dream could be yours with...
This well cared for property at 20 Palkana Drive Warana, really sums up Sunshine Coast living!! Beach side of the Nicklin Way and approximately 200 metres from one...
** Open Saturday 12-12.30pm ** How good is this!! Andrew Vockler of Ray White Bli Bli is extremely excited to be able to offer a great family home of generous...
Join the Community.
Get your local news, your way.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.