The Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia merged on 1 September 2021 into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA). We now see a new court system for Family Law matters that is innovative and focused on the efficient resolution of matters with a continued focus on the safety of children and vulnerable parties. This world leading change will see the FCFCOA implement a best practice family law system that is modernised through technology and is more responsive.
The new FCFCOA benefits users of the court system in the following ways:
- Greater focus on Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) prior to allowing access to the court system;
- The continued use of technology to allow court users to access the court system without the need to physically attend court;
- A focus on the expected compliance of court orders including efficient and expedient handling of contraventions;
- Harmonised rules, forms, practice directions and court website; and
- More efficient case management aiming to see 90% of matters filed with the court being resolved within 12 months.
Greater Focus on Family Dispute Resolution
The FCFCOA has placed greater responsibility on families to firstly take genuine steps to resolve their property and parenting matters before seeking the assistance of the Court. This has been achieved by requiring families to comply with the court issued pre-action procedures and engage in dispute resolution prior to filing any application with the court.
The purpose of dispute resolution is to initially assist parties to explore the possibility of resolution. Where resolution is not possible, dispute resolution will, at a minimum, assist parties to narrow the issues in which the Court is required to decide upon.
The pre-action procedures of course continue to allow for the genuine exception of urgency. In matters where there is a high risk or real urgency, it is likely that the court will accommodate an initial hearing on the same date as an initial triage of a matter.
Continued use of Technology
Covid-19 saw the introduction of the extensive use of technology by the family courts to conduct court appearances using video conferencing and telephone. The courts expect to continue the use of technology, not only to make it more efficient to attend court but to enable the court to use its extensive nationwide resources to resolve matters. For example, we may see a Judge in Tasmania presiding over a matter filed in Queensland.
It is however likely that as Covid-19 restrictions are reduced over time that we will see more face to face court attendances for interim hearings and trials.
Focus on Compliance
Compliance has long been an issue in family law matters and has had a significant impact on the confidence in the family law system. A significant failing of the previous system was that it took far too long to deal with contraventions.
A major benefit of the new court system is the dedication of the Court to list and triage matters particular to the non-compliance of court orders within fourteen (14) days of filing.
This focus by the Court on non-compliance will see matters resolved far more quickly than ever before. This is likely to result in less contraventions going forward and improved outcomes in circumstances where non-compliance occurs.
Harmonised Rules, forms, practice directions and court website
Having a single harmonised court system will see the efficient delivery of justice. The court has also implemented new rules specific to the volume of material that can be filed to ensure parties cases are focused and to implement time limits for interim hearings.
More efficient Case Management
The new FCFCOA sees a single point of entry to the court.
The filing of an initiating application is now likely to see a first court date in which a matter will be triaged by a Judicial Registrar of the court within six (6) to eight (8) weeks of filing. Judicial Registrars will assess compliance with pre-action procedures and make directions for dispute resolution where required.
Matters requiring interim hearings can be promptly allocated to a Senior Judicial Registrar who have additional powers to resolve matters.
This change will free up Judges to focus on resolving more complicated issues and presiding over trials. This will allow the court to achieve its aim of resolving 90% of matters filed with the court within twelve (12) months of filing.
We are excited by the implementation of the new court system. It is our view that the implementation of more efficient case management will see matters being resolved on a timelier basis. This combined with the Court’s focus on no-compliance will assist users of the court system to move forward following separation and to co-parent on a more level playing field.