On 1 September 2021, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court merged and became the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA). The purpose of the merger is to improve the existing system which was riddled with delay and inefficiencies and attempt to deliver a cost effective and efficient resolution of family law disputes.
The new FCFCOA will comprise of 2 divisions:
Division 1 being the continuation of the Family Court of Australia, comprised of the existent judges of the Family Court, dealing exclusively with family law matters (including appeals).
Division 2 being the continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, dealing with both family law and general federal law matters.
The stated aim of the new Court is delivery of a judgment within 12 months of filing. Keep in mind that previously the Federal Circuit and Family Courts both struggled with a substantial case load, insufficient funding and hence insufficient staff to properly service the matters before the Court. As judges retired, they were not always replaced leading to greater strains on the system. It was not uncommon in highly contentious matters to wait two (2) years and longer for a final hearing date.
The new system aims to facilitate the resolution of 90% of matters within twelve (12) months with the following procedures. These procedures involve a nationally consistent pathway whereby:
Upon filing your documents, your first Court event should take place within 6-8 weeks from the date of filing.
Within 5 to 6 months of filing, you should have entered into mediation or dispute resolution.
If dispute resolution or mediation fails to resolve your matter, the matter proceeds to trial.
The main features of the structural shift include:
A single point of entry for all family law matters which are filed in Division 2, enabling the Court to assess and triage matters from commencement to ensure proper and adequate case management.
Harmonised family law rules and forms
Focus on dispute resolution
A new case management pathway as outlined above
Specialist lists such as the Magellan list (for serious child abuse) and the COVID19 list (dealing with urgent matters arising from COVID19 pandemic)
New family law practice directions. The Central Practice direction outlines the ten core principles applicable to family law proceedings and establishes a national case management system. That system starts with a requirement to comply with pre-action procedures and then follow the pathway outlined above
Enhanced child expert reporting process. The new style report aims to give children a voice at an early stage in the proceedings, focus the parties on the needs of the children and assist the Court in identifying the issues and the evidence whether relevant to dispute resolution or to any hearing.
For more information, visit the official website of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia at https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/
And lastly, a moment of sheer joy, courtesy of a portion of our beleaguered Arts community