In February of 2021, Parliament passed the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Arrangements) Act 2021 which essentially proposed to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court into a single unified structure. As the official merger was on the 1st of September 2021, this article will provide an update on how these reforms will impact you.

Navigating the Family Law system can be incredibly challenging at the best of times so it is essential, if you are experiencing familial issues, that you seek experienced legal advice to assist you in navigating these challenges as the Family Law landscape undergoes significant change.

Review of the Changes

We have previously written an article which gave a detailed overview of the proposed changes. By way of summary, the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will consist of two divisions:

  • Division 1: will only deal with complex Family Law matters and appeals; and
  • Division 2: is the single entry point for all other Family Law matters. Judges will preside over a combination of Family Law and Federal Law matters such as employment and immigration.

The reforms have also resulted in a change to the rules of the family courts. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 were recently finalised and also came into effect on the 1st of September. One of the important features of these reforms is the establishment of a nationally uniform case management pathway which will operate to make proceedings less complex and prioritise alternative methods of dispute resolution. From the 1st of September, family matters will be dealt with in the following manner:

new structure family law

The new Family Law Rules will also retain the need for parties to fulfil the required pre-action procedures. This means that parties should not file proceedings until they have engaged in dispute resolution, exchanged documents and made a genuine attempt to settle the dispute outside of litigation. Undertaking these pre-action procedures can be acrimonious, so it is best to seek out legal advice early to ensure your interests are well represented.

Dispute Resolution

As part of creating a consistent internal case management pathway, dispute resolution has been placed at the forefront to ensure just outcomes are achieved for parties in an efficient manner. It is an expectation of the court that both parties and their legal representatives make every effort to participate in dispute resolution. There are a number of different types of dispute resolution including mediation, negotiation and conciliation, and we have written previous articles explaining these processes.

Under the new case management pathway, dispute resolution must occur within 5-6 months of the date of filing. However, we should note that in circumstances where it is unsafe to conduct alternative dispute resolution, the parties will be given an opportunity to raise these concerns with the Registrar in formal court proceedings.

What the changes hope to achieve

The overarching purpose of these structural reforms is to ensure that the resolution of family disputes is achieved as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible. In a Media Release from the office of the Attorney-General, Christian Porter stated that;

‘bringing the courts together under one amalgamated structure creates a single point of entry for families who will no longer be bounced around between different courts – an issue that occurs too often in the current system and can lead to lengthy delays for families because matters have to begin again.’

The unification of the family courts is hoped to resolve up to 90% of disputes within a 12 month timeframe by:

  • Improving risk identification and the safety of vulnerable parties;
  • Encouraging alternative methods of separation which are less burdensome on the parties;
  • Improving compliance with court orders; and
  • Enhancing access to justice for those from remote or vulnerable communities through the use of technology.

Additionally, as we noted in our previous article, judges hearing Family Law matters in the new amalgamated court will need to satisfy additional appointment criteria to guarantee they are suitable to dealing with more complex Family Law matters, including family violence.

How Etheringtons Solicitors can help?

Understanding the Family Law system can be a confusing and emotionally exhausting task. Our dedicated Family Law solicitors are ready and willing to assist you with your parenting or Family Law concerns. If you would like further information, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced solicitors on 9963 9800 or [email protected]. For more articles on family and other areas of law, see our blog here.