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Family Law

Court merger update

By August 11, 2021February 23rd, 2024No Comments

It’s being lauded as “a completely new family law system” by the Government. And in just a few weeks time, on 1 September, the newly merged Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) is set to begin operations. So how is the merger plan going to ensure we “do things differently” in family law in Australia? What will the court merger mean in practice? Let’s take a look.

(Court merger update…continued)

What is changing?

The structure of the family court system is being overhauled so that a combined Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (‘FCFCOA’) is established. The merged court will feature a streamlined single entry point and will harmonise the rules, forms and case management procedures that had varied across the courts. The idea is that procedures and case management will be simpler with a single merged court.

The merger plan has been much criticised by stakeholders (find out why here).

A focus on “risk, responsiveness and resolution”

The court merger is touted as enabling a better system for identifying risk and safety issues from the very beginning of a matter, before proceedings are issued. It’s aimed at steering families into dispute resolution wherever possible (and safe) to do so. For those families that are unable to reach resolution via dispute resolution, the litigation process will be revamped so that it is “modern, transparent and more efficient”. Families will also be given guidance as to what the potential ramifications of litigation might be. If no resolution is achieved, then matters should come quickly before a judge, ideally within 12 months.

A shake-up in staffing

To relieve some of the burden that currently falls on judges in the family court system, the court merger will see changes in how various judicial staff handle cases. Early on in the process, Judicial Registrars, Senior Judicial Registrars and Family Consultants will be tasked with triaging matters. Duty list will be conducted by Judicial Registrars and Interim hearings will be conducted by Senior Judicial Registrars.

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. The new Court will have 111 judges, including 90 specialist family law judges.

A funding injection of $100 million by the Federal Government will assist in the implementation of staffing changes, with an intensive recruitment drive taking place.

A “nationally consistent case pathway”

Matters filed in the newly merged court will follow a nationally consistent case pathway:

The First Court event is to take place within 6-8 weeks of filing. Parties should be at mediation or dispute resolution within 5 -6 months of filing before they have spent too much money on costs and have become too entrenched in the system. If they are still unable to settle they will be sent to trial which is to commence where possible within 12 months. These steps are aimed at resolving up to 90% of cases within 12 months which will be a substantial improvement.

A focus on compliance and enforcement

The start of the new court operations will coincide with commencement of a new National Compliance List. (We will let you know more about the National Compliance List when further details are released.)

Playing catch-up

The new system is set to impact cases issued within the court after 1 September, but there are a significant amount of unresolved cases languishing in the court system. As such, the Government has announced a “Winter callover” which is intended to help clear the backlog. The Winter callover (which began 2 August) will deal with 7,000 cases across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney. The Winter callover is hoped to help resolve matters with as many cases as possible steered into alternative dispute resolution and mediation. A variety of family law experts, including retired judges, will assist in this regard, in some cases on a pro bono basis.

So will the court merger be the long-awaited panacea to fix the ailing family law system? Will this “significant and meaningful change” be the best use of court resources going forward? Time will tell if the merger truly enables “a smarter, better way” to resolve family law issues.

Source: Mirage News

For help with a family law matter, please call Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.


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