Rebecca Schuetze

A New Era for Family Law in Australia

On 1 September 2021, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia will be brought together into a unified structure to be called the ‘Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’ (FCFC).

Whilst each Court has had a separate set of rules and procedures, there have always been long delays in both Courts seeing parties waiting up to three years for a trial to be heard and then a further few months or even years for a judgment to then be released.

The combining of the courts aims for a simpler, faster, and cheaper legal system for those hoping to settle family disputes by implementing one entry point and a single set of rules for all family law matters.

The FCFCA will comprise of two divisions

  • Division 1 – This Division will only deal with complex family law matters and appeals.
  • Division 2 – This Division will be the single-entry point for all family law matters except for appeals. Complex matters may be sent to Division 1 upon the direction of the Chief Justice. Judges will preside over a combination of family law and federal law matters, such as employment matters, immigration, etc.

This new slim lined model aims to:

  • Improve early risk identification and safety of children and vulnerable parties;
  • Encourage smarter ways to separate with less acrimony, less cost, and more dispute  resolution, where it is safe to do so;
  • Expect compliance with court orders;
  • Enhance national access to justice for vulnerable parties and regional communities through the use of technology; and
  • Resolve up to 90 per cent of cases within 12 months, where possible.

National Contravention List

A National Contravention List will be introduced to ensure that all parties comply with court orders and that alleged breaches of court orders will be taken seriously and dealt with quickly.    The key objectives of the National Contravention List are:

  • to efficiently deal with Applications on a national basis in a timely, cost effective and safe way for all litigants;
  • for Applications to be given a first return date within 14 days of filing;
  • to ensure compliance with court orders by all parties;
  • to impose appropriate penalties or sanctions where a contravention has been proved and where a party has failed to demonstrate they had a reasonable excuse for non-compliance with court orders;
  • to proactively facilitate the resolution of underlying issues in disputes that lead to the filing of such applications;
  • to triage appropriate matters to dispute resolution; and
  • to be responsive to a party’s wishes to resolve matters without recourse to additional litigation.

What are the benefits if I am in the middle of a Family Law Matter now?

The changes will see a number of new judges appointed to the Court, which could see existing matters progressed faster and more effectively through the Courts.

 What are the benefits for future Family Law matters?

With the new structure there will be a greater prominence on encouraging parties to settle their disputes, where it is safe to do so and before proceedings are issued. If parties do issue proceedings, the courts will ensure that all parties are aware of the effect of litigation financially and emotionally.

For the cases that do proceed to court, the new Court will provide a modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice which is aimed at getting parties through the process as safely, quickly and fairly as possible without undue delay.

The structure also aims to deal with the increasing rate of family violence by ensuring risks to vulnerable families and children are identified at a very early stage in the court proceedings and then to be treated appropriately.

What Next?

If you want to know more about these changes or wish to speak to an experienced family lawyer, contact us today to make an appointment.