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CHANGE IS AFOOT… THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT AND

FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA (FCFCOA) COMING SOON

 

It’s happening. Following seemingly endless debate, on 1 September 2021, the Commonwealth Law Courts in Brisbane City will look a bit different with the merger of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA). Changes are afoot for litigants and the profession. In fact, one could argue this is one of the most significant changes in Family Law since the parent legislation, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) took effect.

The current Federal Circuit Court and Family Court have been issuing press releases to provide some indication of how the FCFCOA will look and operate.

New Name, New Website

All information currently on the individual Federal Circuit Court(www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au) and the Family Court (www.familycourt.gov.au) websites will be amalgamated onto a brand new website for the FCFCOA (www.fcfcoa.gov.au), which will be launched on 1 September 2021.

New Case Management Pathway

Generally, all new matters will follow the exact same national case management pathway, as per the below diagram:

This certainly indicates an increased focus on Dispute Resolution, with the Court attempting to ensure parties have every opportunity to resolve or finalise their matter without the need for a trial.

It has been promised that the parties’ first court date (commonly referred to as the ‘duty list mention’) will take place within 6-8 weeks of filing proceedings. Any mediation or dispute resolution should take place within 5-6 months of filing proceedings, the idea being that this will assist in minimising parties’ costs. If a settlement cannot be reached, their matter will be listed for trial, which the Court is aiming to commence within 12 months of filing proceedings. This is to avoid parties’ becoming caught in the system, and their matters dragging on.

Matters that are currently before the Court will be reviewed to determine what can be moved to the new case management pathway and parties will be notified accordingly.

 

New Titles and Responsibilities

Division 1 of the FCFCOA is designed to replace the current Family Court of Australia. Division 2 will replace the current Federal Circuit Court of Australia. At this stage it would appear that the criteria for which division the matter will be heard in is the same as at present – only the most complex parenting matters or property settlements will be heard in Division 1. Division 2 will remain the central entry point for all matters into the court system. This, however, is based on the information to hand at the date of this article and may change as we learn more about how the new Court will operate.

As much as possible, the ‘duty list mentions’ (or first court dates) will be presided over by a Registrar. Senior Registrars will preside over interim hearings. The titles are also changing. According to the latest press release:

  • Registrars will now be called Judicial Registrars;
  • Senior Registrars will now be called Senior Judicial Registrars; and
  • Assistant Registrars will now be called Deputy Registrars.

 

All Family Consultants will also face changes, and will become known as Court Child Experts. Child Dispute Services will become known as the Court Children’s Service.

Further, practitioners often refer to an “11F Report”, which is a short report prepared by what will now be termed a Court Child Expert, after interviewing both parties to a matter and their child or children. The “11F Report” will be no more and will be replaced by a Child Impact Report ‘which will be designed to assist the parties in parenting matters to reach agreement wherever possible, and to provide expert guidance to the Court for interim hearings’. Though Family Reports, as they are currently known will still exist, the Court will also have further options available, as matters approach trial. This will include reports for specific issues in dispute and further reports to expand upon the original Child Impact Report.

 

Further Changes

Of course there will be further changes around the Court rules and regulations and Practice Directions. The extent of these changes have not been released yet, and it is expected they will become available on the date of the merge – 1 September 2021.

There will also be a new National Contravention List, designed to encourage parties to abide by their Court orders. This List also aims to streamline the current process of Contravention Proceedings.

A lot about how the merged court will look will remain unknown until 1 September 2021. However, from what we do know from the Court’s press releases, we should be expecting a significant adjustment in how family law matters are litigated, with the new pathways for case management ‘aimed at resolving up to 90% of cases within 12 months’ which the Court expects will be a ‘substantial improvement’.

Time will tell how successful the merger will be. Rest assured though that Mitchells Solicitors is ready for the changes which are afoot, and will continue to provide quality representation to our clients.

 

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a Family Lawyer about your matter, please do not hesitate to contact Kristen Mitchell-Scott on (07) 3373 3633 or via email: kmitchellscott@mitchellsol.com.au.