When alternative dispute resolution processes do not resolve the property or parenting issues in dispute with your ex-partner (taking into account that these processes require the co-operation of your ex-partner) you will need the assistance of the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court process to resolve your matter.
Are there time limits?
Unless you bring proceedings in the Family Court of Federal Circuit Court for a property settlement or spouse maintenance within 1 year from the date of your divorce being finalised, you lose the right to bring such proceedings without leave of the Court (which is not readily given).
What Happens During the Court Process
The process in both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia follow the basic procedures below, with some minor variations, namely:
- An Initiating Application and an Affidavit by you in Support of the Application and a Financial Statement if a property matter, or a Notice of Risk if a parenting matter, is filed in the Court and served on the other party. A Court filing fee is payable;
- The other party must file and serve a Response, Affidavit and Financial Statement (or Notice of Risk) within fourteen (14) days of the first Court return date;
- The matter comes before the Court for the first time for a case assessment conference (Family Court) or for a “first return date” (Federal Circuit Court) and interim hearing if necessary (both Courts);
- The Court will make any orders by consent on the first return date, and will normally order that the parties attend a conciliation conference or a private mediation (for property matters) or that a Family Report be prepared and/or an Independent Children’s Lawyer (“ICL”) be appointed for the children (parenting matters);
- If the matter does not resolve at the conciliation conference or private mediation (property matters) or in line with the recommendations of the Family Report Writer and/or ICL (children’s matters), the matter is returned to Court for trial directions;
- The matter is prepared for a hearing, and a barrister is appointed to prepare for attend the hearing.
- The matter is heard by a Judge for a final decision.
- The Judge will hand down his or her decision, and this decision can only be appealed on certain grounds within twenty eight (28) days.
If there are any urgent matters which need to be determined by the Court prior to a final hearing, either party can bring an interim or urgent application in which case the matter will be dealt with depending on the urgency of the matter.
On the return date of an interim or urgent application, the Court will make a determination of the matter on an urgent basis and the matter is determined on the affidavit material filed and the submissions of both parties. Normally oral evidence is not given at such a hearing. Affidavits must not be more than ten (10) pages in length, and the number of exhibits which can be attached is limited.
During the Court proceedings, it is important to remember that:
- Your personal appearance is required on all Court dates, including mentions and callovers, unless excused by the Judge beforehand;
- You will need our assistance to prepared affidavit material (which may need to be settled by counsel) and this can be time consuming and costly;
- Barristers will be required to be engaged for all defended interim hearings and for the final hearing of the matter. Whilst solicitors will generally appear on mentions, callovers, and where consent orders are being made, solicitors are not generally experts in Court advocacy and will engage counsel to provide the best possible representation of you and presentation of your case at defended and final hearings, particularly where cross-examination is required.
- Every Court appearance carries with it an opportunity to resolve the matter or particular issues in dispute by consent with the other party, and therefore the most should be made of these opportunities.
- Judges in the family court arena have a very wide discretion when it comes to making property adjustment orders, and this wide discretion gives limited rights to appeal a seemingly unfavourable decision towards a party.