On 1 March 2021, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 (Cth) (“the Act”) was passed. The Act essentially merges the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia into one, to be called the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the FCFC”).
Current family law court system
Family Court of Australia
The Family Court of Australia is a specialised court, which deals specifically with family law related matters.
The Family Court of Australia deals with more complex parenting and property cases, such as where there are reports of child abuse, multiple parties involved, or where there are complex trust or corporate structures, which require specialist family law judges to hear, and determine issues in dispute.
The Family Court of Australia also acts as an appellate court for matters from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia
The Federal Circuit Court of Australia, although not a specialised family court, hears a large proportion of all family law related matters, which are generally less complicated.
In addition, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia also deals with a broad range of other matters, including bankruptcy, human rights, migration and administrative law.
What are the changes?
As outlined above, the Act will essentially merge the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and will create two separate Divisions, which will operate within the FCFC.
Division 1 will be a continuation of the current Family Court of Australia, and will deal with the more complex family law matters. It will have specialist family law judges appointed to the court, and will also act as an appellate court for matters coming from Division 2.
Division 2 will be a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and will be a single entry point for all family law matters. It is expected that Division 2, like the current Federal Circuit Court of Australia, although not a specialised family court, will continue to hear the bulk of all family law matters.
Matters that are more complex, or that are appealed, will be transferred by the FCFC to Division 1 as appropriate.
The structural changes set out in the Act provide a framework where Division 1 and Division 2 will have:
(a) Unified leadership, and unified case management;
(b) A single set of forms for both Divisions;
(c) A common scale of costs for both Divisions;
(d) A single point of entry for court users, where all matters will be filed into Division 2, and will be allocated by the FCFC into Division 1 where appropriate; and
(e) A more streamline appeals process between the existing courts.
What this means for court users
Provided the transition of the merger between the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia happens smoothly, it is intended that court users will be able to resolve their disputes faster and in a more cost effective manner. However, it is yet to be seen as to whether or not this will occur.
It is projected that the FCFC will be established, and will be hearing matters in late 2021.
How we can help
Understanding and navigating the court process is critical to achieving desired outcomes. Our team of specialist Family & Relationship Lawyers can help. Contact us for a 30 minute no cost consultation so that we can provide you with advice tailored to your individual circumstances.