Farewell to the Family Court


Tuesday, 31 August was the last day of the Family Court of Australia as a stand-alone Court, dispensing justice to separated families.

Twenty-one years ago, the Government under Prime Minister Howard established the Federal Circuit Court (“the FCC”), to operate alongside the Family Court.  The intention was to create a Court that delivered justice in a more timely, cost-effective manner.  But that meant that there were two Courts generally operating in the same building, with different court rules and different court forms.  It also created two layers of administration, and judges with different pension schemes.

Effective from 1 September, the Family Court has been  absorbed into the new “Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia” (“FCFCA”).  It will now become “Division 1” of the new Court and will deal only with family law matters.  “Division 2” represents a continuation of the FCC and will continue to deal with family law, migration, and other general federal law matters.

But now there will be a “single point of entry”, a single set of court rules and forms and a single, purpose–built website.

The Chief Justice of the new Court has said that it will “change the culture of family law”.  There is a commitment that 90% of cases will be disposed of within 12 months of a case being started.

Possibly the biggest change is that, before filing in the FCFCA, parties will generally be required to demonstrate that they have taken “genuine steps” to settle their dispute by engaging in dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration.  A “Genuine Steps Certificate” will have to be filed with any new Application, identifying what steps have been taken to resolve the dispute out of court.  And under a new “case management pathway”, once proceedings have been commenced, parties will be expected to engage in dispute resolution for both financial and parenting matters, within 5-6 months of starting a case.  Because this will be an “overarching purpose” of the new, resolution–focused, Court, we are told that there may be costs consequences if “genuine steps” are not taken before proceedings are commenced.

A new dawn?  So much will depend on whether the  government of the day is prepared to support the lofty ideals and time commitments of the new court, by funding it appropriately and ensuring that there are sufficient judges, with expertise in family law, to manage the continuing case load.

For further information about the new Court and how it may affect you, contact one of our specialist family lawyers.

Contact us for answers to your family law issues.

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