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Family Court Merger Update

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Lawyer, Sarah Caruso, provides an update on the upcoming merger of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia.

What changes are coming?

On 1 September 2021 the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia will be merging. The Family Court will become the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (Division 1). The Division 1 Court will hear more complex matters and exercise the appellate jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit Court will become the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (Division 2). The Division 2 Court will be the first point of entry for all family law and child support cases.

All Initiating Applications will be filed in the Division 2 Courts and all Appeals will be filed in the Division 1 Court.

Why is the merger happening?

The Federal Government contends that the merger of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia will improve the current inefficiencies, confusion and delays of the family court system. They also argue that the reforms “will resolve disputes faster by improving the efficiency of the family law system, reducing the backlog of matters before the family law courts, and driving faster, cheaper and more consistent dispute resolution.” Visit https://www.ag.gov.au/legal-system/courts/structural-reform-federal-courts

The aim of the merged Courts is to:

(a) ensure that justice is delivered by federal courts effectively and efficiently; and
(b) provide for just outcomes, in particular, in family law or child support proceedings; and
(c) provide a framework to facilitate cooperation between Division 1 and Division 2 with the aim of ensuring:
       i.   common rules of court and forms; and
       ii.  common practices and procedures; and
       iii. common approaches to case management.

Understanding the restructure

Under the restructure the Core Principles of the Family Law Act 1975 will remain, and Chief Justice William Alstergren confirms that the Courts “will continue to have a statutory obligation to have regard to the need to protect the rights of children and to promote their welfare and protect them from family violence.“

The Chief Justice reports that the restructure of the Courts will have the highest increase in Judges since 2007. The new Court will have 111 judges, including 90 specialist family law judges.

The Court has reported that the restructure should promote a greater emphasis on dispute resolution.

The Court’s media release stresses “identifying risk and safety at the very beginning of every case is a priority, where parties will be given ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to do so, and if cases cannot be resolved, it will be listed for a trial before a judge much earlier than previously experienced.”

To emphasise dispute resolution, the Court has introduced a number of changes including:

  1. Changes to Child Dispute Services with the introduction of Child Impact Reports (replacing 11F assessment reports). This report will be a more fulsome report designed to assist parties reach agreement where possible and provide expert guidance to the Court at interim hearings.
  2. A new case management model whereby Senior Registrars, Registrars and Family Consultants are used early in the process to attempt to triage and resolve matters where possible.

The Court’s media release states that “duty lists will be conducted by Registrars and interim hearings will be conducted by Senior Registrars which is designed to alleviate the front-end case management burden.”

Further changes being implemented to support families

There will also be a National Contravention List to address the expectation that all parties will comply with orders of the Court, and that alleged breaches of court orders will be taken seriously and will be dealt with quickly.

“For those cases that do need to proceed to litigation, the new Court will provide a modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice which is aimed at getting these parties through the process as safely, quickly and fairly as possible without undue delay,” advises The Chief Justice.

A new website is also scheduled to launch on 1 September 2021, bringing together the two separate websites from the Family Circuit Court and Federal Circuit Court into one user-friendly, simplified place. The new website is intended to make it easier for legal professionals and the public to access the information they need related to family law, migration, and general federal law.

Visit www.fcfcoa.gov.au after 1st September 2021.

We’re here to help families navigate the legal system and resolve their legal issues

Whilst the results of this restructure are yet to be seen, the Courts have announced there will be transitional arrangements introduced from 1 September 2021 to assist practitioners and litigants navigate the new legislation, procedures and rules, and Divisions of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA).

It is our intent to ensure family law matters are handled in the most efficient way possible. We understand that when relationships break down and you are going through one of life’s toughest battles, it is important to reduce conflict and resolve matters effectively so that all parties can move forward peacefully. We are here to support you and provide you with trusted and prompt advice to protect your interests and help you move forward with confidence.

If you need help with a family law matter, please contact our Family Law Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or call 1800 621 071 at any time.

Our team are available at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

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Sarah Caruso

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