Family Court Merger

What does the family court merger mean for your family law matter?

On 1 September 2021, the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia merged together to become the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”). This new Court structure and management of family law cases.

Harmonised sets of Rules have also been published being the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Cth) and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Cth).

You may have heard the hype in the media earlier this year when the legislation was passed and now that the new Court is in operation, you may be wondering what this means for you.  This article explores some of the key changes to be aware of.

Summary

Some of the exciting key points that we see as benefits from the merger:

  • Prior to the merger, the wait time for a final hearing in Canberra was between 18 month – 3 years. The new Court has an aim to resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months.
  • There is an increased focus on settling matters and addressing resolution of conflict between parties.
  • There is an emphasis on Alternative Dispute Resolution including pre-action procedures, mediation and arbitration.
  • There are greater resources with the Court to operate more as a national Court with access to resources from across the country.
What will the new Court do?

In a media release and statement from the Chief Justice and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, the Hon William Alstergren:

It is a modern court responsive to the needs of litigants. It’s aimed at identifying risk in family law proceedings early, to ensure the safety of vulnerable parties and children, and providing opportunities for all litigants for early dispute resolution. 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. This includes going to mediation within five months, where ever possible, and starting a trial, if there has to be one, within 12 months.[1]

What are the impacts of the new Court structure?

Some of the impacts include:

  • There is a single point of entry for all family law matters and a new case management pathway which will streamline the management of matters.
  • Improved early risk identification for the safety of children and vulnerable parents.
  • Expectations of compliance with Court Orders.
  • There is a focus on dispute resolution and an increase on internal dispute resolution whilst in the Court system.
  • Specialist Court lists.
  • Focus on smart ways to separation with reduced conflict and costs for parties.
  • Use of technology to enhance the access to justice nationally.
  • There are enhanced and effective child expert reporting services. This is to assist the parties in resolving their matters or narrowing disputes.
  • The new Court also has aim to resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months.
What is the new case management pathway?

The Court case management pathway has been streamlined. You can expect the following different Court events in a matter:[2]

What do I need to do before I commence proceedings?

There are pre-action procedures in both property and parenting matters. Before commencing proceedings, parties are required to:

  • Engage in dispute resolution.
  • Make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute.
  • Exchange documents – for property matters this includes financial disclosure and for parenting matters this includes relevant documents to an issue in dispute including medical and school reports.
  • Put the other party on notice of their intention to commence proceedings.
  • Put the other party in notice of the Orders that you would seek if you did commence proceedings.  

There are limited exceptions to complying with the pre-action procedures for example if there is urgency or safety concerns.

If you are not sure whether or not the pre-action procedures apply to you, please contact us and we can assist.

If we have an agreement, can we still settle outside of Court?

Of course! The new Court system encourages parties to settle their disputes without commencing proceedings.

If you and your former partner can reach an agreement, that agreement can still be formalised without commencing Court proceedings. 

Alternatively, if you do commence proceedings and can reach an agreement in relation to all or some of the issues, those matters can be finalised by Consent and if necessary, a Judge, can assist with the making a decision about the outstanding issue(s).

Where can I find more information?

The Court has a new website: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au .

The new website is very user friendly and includes lots of different information and brochures.

The Court has also produced helpful videos to assist parties which you can access via: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl .

How can we help?

If you or a loved one would like legal advice in relation to a family law matter of how the new Court effects your matter, please contact our Family Law Team to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced family law solicitors. 

This article does not constitute legal advice and Elringtons is not responsible for any reliance upon its contents. It is important that you seek legal advice to your unique situation.


[1] Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, Media Release: The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia officially commences (Media Release, 1 September 2021) .

[2] Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, What has changed with the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia? (1 September 2021).