Family Law Court Merger: Streamlining the Process10-09-2021 | News | Simone Thomas
Whilst the majority of family law disputes are resolved quickly and effectively without having to involve the Court, when a matter is referred to litigation the length of time it has taken to be heard by the Court has long been an issue. The legal system and the government have been acutely aware of the problems and the waiting times involved and have been working to improve the process for couples who are separating. As a result, the family law system in Australia is set to undergo significant change following the merger of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia on 1 September 2021.
The newly merged Court will be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), and it will aim to reduce the backlog and delays currently experienced by parties in the family law system by better utilising all available resources. The hope is that it will be able to resolve 90% of proceedings within 12 months of their commencement.
How will it work?
The FCFCOA will contain two divisions, being:
- Division 1 in which Judges of the Family Court of Australia will hear and deal with complex matters and appeals; and
- Division 2 which will be the entry point for all proceedings related to family law and child support.
According to the information released by both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia before the merger, the major changes to the system they identified include:
- A more “streamlined”, single point of entry to Court proceedings that will help to identify risk and safety concerns (including vulnerable parties and children) as a priority;
- Complementary forms, case management and rules to assist matters progressing through the family law system “quickly and fairly” with fourteen new practice directions to complement Court rules;
- The establishment of a “National Contravention List” to address the Court’s expectation that binding Court Orders will be complied with;
- A strong emphasis on encouraging dispute resolution for parties if it appears safe to do so, and if it is unsafe, progressing a matter through the Court without delay;
- A new case management model whereby Senior Judicial Registrars, Judicial Registrar, Deputy Registrars and Family Consultants of the Court will assist in managing and hopefully resolving cases in the first instance to reduce the number that end triaging cases filed in the Court.
- More efficient timelines in proceedings, including:
- Parties should expect that their first Court event will arise within 6-8 weeks of filing in the FCFCOA.
- Parties should mediate or participate in dispute resolution within 5-6 months of filing, to avoid being entrenched in the system and to try and reduce parties’ costs.
- If parties’ cannot settle their matters through mediation or other dispute resolution, they should anticipate commencing a Trial within 12 months, where the Court is able to do so.
What does this mean for you?
The Lamrocks family law team will continue to assist our clients throughout the transition of the Family Court system. As always, we will attempt to resolve your family dispute without the need to refer the matter to litigation. Where this is not possible, we are hopeful that the new Court will allow a much smoother and more timely resolution to your disputes than in the past.
If your case is currently in the system, we will keep you informed regarding any changes or updates to the process. For more information, contact the family law team at Lamrocks on 02 4731 5688.