How The Family Court Merger Will Affect Australian Families

Family Court merger

It remains to be seen whether a shake-up of the family court system in Australia on September 1 will speed up cases and reduce costs.

The Australian Government believes it will, saying families will very soon be able to deal with their matters in court much more quickly and at lower cost as a result of reforms to the family court system.

“Families who need to use the court to resolve matters at the end of a relationship have a right to expect that the system will help them settle their matters quickly, efficiently and at as low a cost as possible,” the federal Attorney-General at the time, Christian Porter, said in February.

The ABC reports more than 20 retired Family Court judges have answered a call to come back to the bench to smash a backlog of 7000 cases. It says the wait to get to the Family Court can be two years, and some judges have 600 cases or more on their dockets.

What Does This Mean For You And Your Family?

The new merger will create a single court structure, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA), combining the existing Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia

The purpose of this new court merger is to:   

  • Resolve 90% of cases within one year, where possible
  • Enhance early risk identification, as well as the safety of children and those at risk
  • Promote a less acrimonious way in which to separate
  • Offer cheaper and more efficient dispute resolution, when it is safe to do so
  • Ensure that court orders are followed
  • Be a tech-enabled gateway to justice for vulnerable parties and regional communities

The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia features:

  • A single point of entry for all family law matters – There will be a centralised point of entry for families, which will prevent them jumping between different courts, which is a frequent problem of the current system that leads to lengthy delays for families.
  • A new case management pathway
  • Specialist lists
  • Harmonised family law rules
  • New family law practice directions
  • Focus on dispute resolution and an increase in internal dispute resolution in parenting and financial matters – Parties, wherever possible, will be encouraged to settle their disputes before proceedings are issued and ensure they, and their families, know the consequences if proceedings are continued. 
  • Enhanced and effective child expert reporting process – In addition to addressing the growing issue of family violence in the community, the court reform is designed to identify and treat children at high risk at the very beginning of legal proceedings.
  • An informative and modernised website – The Court’s new website launches on September 1, making court information more accessible and convenient for users.

When litigation is needed, the new Court is designed to provide a more modern, transparent and efficient system of justice for parties, enabling them to reach a fair conclusion with hopefully minimal delay and cost. 

For existing Family Law matters which are part of the Lighthouse Project, on the national COVID-19 List or those currently before the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court – these reforms will not have an immediate effect on those cases.

Consequently, there is currently no plan to end initiatives like the Lighthouse Project and the COVID-19 List. Also, existing family law matters will be examined on a case-by-case basis as to if and when they will be brought under the new system. 

How The New Family Court Structure Works

As part of this merger, the FCFCA would have two divisions. Division 1 would consist of the current Family Court and Division 2 would consist of the Federal Circuit Court.

The FCFCA will operate under the leadership of one Chief Justice with the support of one Deputy Chief Justice, who will each hold a dual commission to both Divisions of the FCFCA. There would also be a second Deputy Chief Judge (General and Fair Work) of the FCFCA (Division 2).

The FCFCA (Division 1) will deal only with family law matters, while the FCFCA (Division 2) will deal with both family law and general federal law matters. The Federal Circuit Court’s existing general federal law jurisdiction and fair work jurisdiction will not be impacted by the establishment of the FCFCA, with no changes to the existing appeal pathway. The current Fair Work Division of the Federal Circuit Court will be retained in the FCFCA (Division 2).

 All initiating applications will be filed in Division 2. All appeals will be filed in Division 1.

Work with our Accredited Specialist in Family Law

Our experienced team at Ryan & Seton Lawyers is headed by Michael Seton, who has been recognised by the Law Society of New South Wales as a leader in the field of family law, meaning you can be confident you’re in the hands of experts.

With Ryan & Seton Lawyers, you benefit from:

  • Over 40 years on the NSW Central Coast
  • We’re a trusted and accredited Family Law team
  • We believe in empowering, not just charging, our clients
  • We cut through all the legal jargon
  • 98% of cases are settled outside of court

Take the stress out of your family law matters, with strong and flexible guidance from our specialist team
We can provide you with assistance in a range of matters relating to family law and de facto relationships. Contact us today for more information.

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