On 1 September 2021 the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the new Court”) commenced, merging the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The Commonwealth Government facilitated the introduction of the new Court with over $100 million in funding.
Why has the new Court been introduced?
For many years proposed reform of the Family Court system has been the subject of controversy and dispute but all parties agreed that the system could benefit from an overhaul given the long delays and often high costs of the old Court system.
The new court has introduced structural reform of the Family Court system with an “overarching purpose” to:
“facilitate the just resolution of disputes according to law and as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.”
There are 3 primary objectives of the legislation:
- To ensure that justice is delivered effectively and efficiently – reducing unnecessary costs and delay;
- To provide for just outcomes whilst ensuring the safety of families; and
- To provide a framework for the new Court system, simplifying procedures via common court rules and forms, common practices and procedures and common approaches to case management.
The new Court aims to achieve these objectives by providing ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to do so and where litigation is unavoidable providing a “modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice”.
What is the new Court system?
The new Court system incorporates a host of reforms designed to achieve these objectives, most importantly:
- A single point of entry for all family law matters;
- Harmonised family law rules and practice directions;
- A new streamlined case management pathway which aims to list matters for final hearing within 12 months of filing and to resolve 90% of cases within 12 months;
- Improved risk identification for the safety of children and vulnerable parties seen through the enhanced and effective child expert reporting processes;
- Greater focus on dispute resolution where it is safe to do so;
- A greater focus on compliance with Court orders and Rules with costs implications for non-compliance;
- Specialist Court lists for example the current COVID19 List and the new National Contravention List; and
- A new Appeals process.
The new Court comprises of 2 divisions, Division 1 is a continuation of the Family Court of Australia and Division 2 a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Both will operate under the one Chief Justice. Specialist judges will continue to be appointed to both divisions and there will be a greater reliance on Registrars early in proceedings to undertake case management, procedural matters and dispute resolution matters as well as interim hearings.
What does this mean for me?
For existing Family Law Court matters the reforms will not have an immediate effect on your case, the harmonised rules will now apply but there is a 90 day grace period before the new forms need to be used and the Court has a discretion in the application of the Rules.
For new matters parties should not file proceedings until they have attended to and exhausted all the pre-action requirements including:
- Family Dispute Resolution for parenting matters;
- Exchanging a notice of intention to commence property proceedings and exploring options for settlement;
- Complying with the duty of disclosure; and
- Preparing a Genuine Steps Certificate outlining all the attempts made to settle the dispute.
If proceedings are required to be filed it is hoped that the new Court system will facilitate the more efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of Family Law matters.
If you need assistance with an existing or new Family Law matter please do not hesitate to contact our team of specialist family lawyers.