Court Merger – The Future of Family Law and how it may impact you
Until now Family Law disputes were heard in two courts being the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This is set to change from 1 September 2021 where the two courts will merge into one known as the Federal Circuit and Family court of Australia (FCFCOA).
What does this mean?
The merger will not only bring a name change for the courts but introduces harmonious changes to practice directions, rules, forms, and the website. The purpose of the merger is to streamline and create efficiency in the court systems by:
- Improving early risk identification and safety of children and vulnerable parties;
- Encouraging smarter ways to separate with less acrimony, less cost and more dispute resolution, where it is safe to do so;
- Expecting compliance with court orders;
- Enhancing national access to justice for vulnerable parties and regional communities through the use of technology; and
- Resolving up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months, where possible.
How will the new court work?
The new FCFCOA will have two divisions: Division One and Division Two.
Division One will hear appeals and deal with the more complex property and financial matters and certain complex parenting matters involving international relocations and serious child sexual abuse.
Division Two will receive all initiating family law and child support matters as a single point of entry and from there a matter will be directed to Division One if eligible.
Some work previously done by Judges will now be undertaken by Registrars, with an increased emphasis on dispute resolution to encourage parties to work things out without a Judge.
The following diagram is an overview of the new nationally consistent case pathway for all matters filed in the new FCFCOA:
The First Court Event is to take place within 6-8 weeks of the matter being filed. The parties should be at mediation or dispute resolution within 5-6 months of filing before they have spent too much money on costs and have become too entrenched in the system. If matters are still unable to settle, they will be sent to Trial which is to commence where possible within 12 months. These steps are aimed at resolving up to 90% of cases within 12 months which will be a substantial improvement.
How will the merger affect pending matters?
For matters currently before the court, there will be no immediate effect on your matter, however moving forward new documents that need to be filed with the Court must comply with the new Rules.