What the Family Court merger means for you
The landscape of Australia’s Family law court system is looking very different, with the merger of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia on 1 September 2021. So, what is now happening?
The newly formed Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia aims to provide a more streamlined approach to court matters, with greater opportunities for early dispute resolution, and starting a trial – if there has to be one – within 12 months.
The court will be made up of two divisions – Division 1, which deals only with Family Law matters; and Division 2, which deals with Family Law, migration and other general federal law matters.
As far as Family Law matters are concerned, there is now a registry for filing documents and forms, and a new purpose-built court website.
There is also a new and consistent approach to case management nationally, with Judicial Registrars “triaging” each case and assessing risks, soon after matters have been filed in the court.
The six-step case management pathway will be:
- First court event – a directions hearing before a judicial registrar to assess and triage the matter. The lawyer for each represented party must provide to the court, and to each other, a notice confirming their client has made a genuine attempt to resolve the issues in dispute.
- Interim hearing – a hearing before a senior judicial registrar or judge to determine any interim applications.
- Dispute resolution – mediation, conciliation conference or Family Dispute Resolution, conducted either externally or within the court. This is expected to take place within five months from the start of proceedings.
- Compliance and readiness hearing – held before a judge or senior judicial registrar, no later than six months from the start of proceedings. If necessary, the matter can be transferred to Division 1 for the final hearing.
- Trial management hearing – a directions hearing before the allocated trial judge.
- Trial – to be held ideally within 12 months from the date of filing, subject to the parties complying with relevant orders and directions.
Wherever possible, and if it is safe to do so, parties will be encouraged to take part in dispute resolution opportunities before, and throughout the court process.
The court’s aim is to resolve more than 90 per cent of Family Law matters within 12 months to reduce the time, cost and stress associated with litigation.
The legal profession has been calling for change to the Family court system for some time. What has happened was not exactly what was hoped for, so it will be a ‘wait and see’ as to how planned outcomes eventuate.
Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, William Alstergren, said the merger represented a modern court, which was responsive to the needs of litigants.
“If cases have to go through our court system to trial, it aims at doing so as fairly, efficiently, safely, and as cost effectively as possible,” he said.
At Michael Lynch Family Lawyers, we are committed to helping you navigate the new court processes for all your Family Law matters.
If you have questions about separation, divorce, property settlement or custody arrangements, please call our office on: (07) 3221 4300 or email us at: [email protected]