The New Court:
1 September 2021 marked the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) which merged the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
$100 million in new funding has been allocated for the new Court which now comprises of two divisions:
- Division 1 (a continuation of the Family Court of Australia) with 35 specialist family law judges hearing both trials and appeals.
- Division 2 (a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) with 76 judges; 55 of which are specialists in family law
For the first time in 21 years, there is now a single point of entry and a streamlined approach to family law proceedings. Procedures have been simplified so matters can move through the family law system quickly and fairly and with as little detrimental impact on families and children as possible. The overarching purpose is to facilitate just resolution of disputes according to law and as quickly, inexpensive and efficiently as possible.
The Court's aim over time is to resolve more than 90 per cent of family law matters within 12 months.
What has changed:
In order to facilitate this streamlined approach, there have been changes to rules, forms, case management processes, appeals management and resources and creation of a new website www.fcfcoa.gov.au.
The new rules apply to all new proceedings from 1 September 2021, and all existing proceedings not finally determined before 1 September with the Court retaining discretion to dispense with compliance.
Where practical, the Court wants parties to use the new forms but there is a grace period for the using the old forms till 29 November 2021.
Some of the changes include:
- A National Contravention List has been initiated to deal with non-compliance of orders expeditiously by allocating the first return date within 14 days of filing the Application.
- A National Assessment Team has been set up for triage and assessment for transfer of matters between the two Divisions.
- The Court has issued a Central Practice Direction which sets out guidelines for the management of family law proceedings in the Court, and a suite of 14 new practice directions to accompany the harmonised family law rules to establish a consistent national case management system in the Court.
New focus - Dispute Resolution:
The Court's new case management pathway places significant emphasis on providing dispute resolution opportunities to litigants to assist them in resolving, or better identifying, the issues in dispute. The Court's expectation is that, where it is safe to do so, parties will avail themselves of every opportunity to participate in dispute resolution in an attempt to resolve the matter without having to go to Court. In the event proceedings are commenced, parties must be aware of the implications if they do not comply with the dispute resolution process which can include a costs order being made against them.
Prior to commencing proceedings, parties are required to comply with the pre-action procedures whether the issues relate to financial issues and/or parenting issues and take genuine steps to attempt to resolve the outstanding issues, unless it is unsafe to do so or a relevant exemption applies.
If an application is eventually filed due to a party's failure to attend and participate in dispute resolution OR the matter was unable to be resolved at dispute resolution, it is highly likely that directions will be made for all or any of the following:
- For the parties to attend Dispute Resolution (unless exceptional circumstances exist),
- requiring the parties to identify the issues in dispute, and
- in sufficient detail to facilitate the conduct of meaningful Dispute Resolution without undue costs.
Whether you are at the stage of initiating family law proceedings or you have an on-going matter, there is always an opportunity and now an obligation to attend dispute resolution to attempt to resolve the matter or at least narrow the issues in dispute. A member of Coleman Greig's Family Law Team would be more than happy to assist you navigate through what may be one of the most difficult time in your life in an efficient and empathetic manner.
As Greater Western Sydney's leading Family Law firm, Coleman Greig Lawyers offer Family Mediation and Family Arbitration services, through our Parramatta, Norwest and Penrith offices as well as being available to facilitate mediations and arbitrations at other locations including the Sydney CBD.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.