On 1 September 2021, the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will be combined to create the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the FCFCOA). If you have a court case currently in the court system, or if you have recently separated, you may be wondering what this means for you, what the main changes will be and how the court will operate moving forward.
Why is the system changing?
In August 2018 the Government proposed a reform to the Australian family law system including a merger of the current courts. In December 2019 the merger was explained by the Government as being aimed at reducing: “the costs and delays that thousands of Australian families experience as a result of a split federal family law court system”.
On 23 February 2021 legislation passed for the new FCFCOA. The FCFCOA provides for a single point of entry into the family law court system. The Family Court of Australia will become Division 1 of the FCFCOA and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia will become Division 2 of the FCFCOA.
What are the aims of the FCFCOA?
The FCFCOA has outlined core principles applicable to family law proceedings and their establishment of a consistent national case system which aims to:
Reduce unnecessary cost and delay in family litigation and facilitate proceedings being conducted with less aggression to minimise harm to children and families;
Ensure the safety of families; and
Facilitate the just resolution of disputes according to the law and as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.
How does the FCFCOA plan to achieve its aims?
The FCFCOA plans to achieve its aims using a number of tools, including but not limited to:
The appointment of judicial registrars to provide significant support to family law judges;
The use of a streamlined case management pathway which aims to list matters for final hearing on a date within 12 months from the date of filing;
Harmonised family law rules and practice directions for the legal profession and litigants;
Greater focus on resolution through dispute resolution, and an increase in internal dispute resolution in parenting and financial matters;
An enhanced and effective child expert reporting process; and
Specialist court lists where required.
What does this mean for my current family law court proceedings?
You do not need to take any action if your case was already in the court system. If your court case was previously listed in the Family Court of Australia it will now be listed in the new FCFCOA Division 1. If your case was previously listed in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia it will now be listed in the new FCFCOA Division 2.
If you commenced proceedings before 1 September 2021 then the new harmonised court rules will still apply to your case. However, the Court has the option to dispense with compliance with any provision of the new rules at all times, including where application of the new rules would operate unfairly or cause injustice to you.
If you have a family law issue or questions about an existing matter and would like to speak to an experienced family lawyer please do not hesitate to contact our team.