On 1 September 2021, the family law courts Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will commence operations.
The new court is being touted as an opportunity to change the conversation about family law disputes in Australia. That conversation is focused with great emphasis on dispute resolution (where it is safe to do so) before commencing proceedings and if proceedings are required, ensuring parties are aware of the ramifications for them and their families.
For those families that require judicial intervention, the process is intended to be transparent and more efficient with resolution without undue delay. It is also designed to have a focus on the safe resolution of disputes for vulnerable families, with the increasing rate of family violence in our community prompting that focus.
There will be, for the first time in over 20 years, one single entry point, a single set of rules and forms and case management processes designed to provide a streamlined approach to family law litigation. Whether or not that eventuates, is yet to be seen.
Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said that for decades, people in the legal profession, and the wider community, have been calling for change and commenting that the “system” wasn’t working. “The Courts have responded to these calls for change. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will provide a completely new family law system which focuses on risk, responsiveness, and resolution. There will also be a significant focus on compliance with court orders, demonstrated by the establishment of a new National Compliance List which will also commence on 1 September 2021.”
In response to the increasingly unacceptable delays, the Chief Justice has said that we need to do things differently and the system will identify risk and safety at the very beginning of every case as a priority, where parties will be given ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to so, and if cases cannot be resolved, it will be listed for a trial before a judge much earlier than previously experienced.
The use of Court Registrars and Court-appointed Family Consultants will be integral to the new system to undertake the triage and case management of all matters filed. As far as possible, duty lists will be conducted by Registrars and interim hearings will be conducted by Senior Registrars which is designed to alleviate the front end case management burden on Judges and ensure that they are able to hear and determine trials and deliver judgments in the matters that require judicial attention as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The newly proposed system will see the following time frame for Court events:
- First Court event within 6 – 8 weeks of filing
- Mediation or dispute resolution within 5 – 6 months of filing
- A trial within 12 months of filing
To facilitate these changes the Commonwealth Government has provided more than $100 million in new funding. The Courts have now been able to undertake an intensive recruitment drive to secure the services of highly skilled and energised family law practitioners to assist the Courts’ existing hardworking and diligent Registrars and staff. The number of Judges has also been increased to the highest-ever number of Division 2 (or Federal Circuit Court) judges and the highest number of Division 1 (or Family Court) judges since 2007.
Here at OMB solicitors, we are across all of the proposed changes to processes and procedures and will be ready, come 1 September 2021 to embrace the new way of Family Law litigation.