In an effort to help separating couples and families divide their assets and property fairly without spending unreasonable amounts of money and time on the legal process, the Government last year announced that it would trial a new process, beginning this January. The so-called Small Claims Property Pilot will run for two years and will then be independently evaluated at the end of that time period.
Four Federal Circuit Court registries were earmarked to pilot the new process, being registries in Brisbane, Parramatta, Adelaide and Melbourne. The locations were chosen through consultation with Will Alstergren, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The Attorney-General Christan Porter said of the Small Claims Property Pilot:
“Property cases make up over half of all new family law cases filed in the Family Court and a third of all family law cases filed in the Federal Circuit Court each year. By reducing the workload on those courts, it’s hoped wait times can also be reduced for families with more complex cases.”
He said the pilot was aimed at helping protect people from the economic consequences of separation. Many Australian families and couples have suffered excessively long delays in the court system and have often spent large amounts of money on legal fees while dividing only relatively small asset pools.
The way the system works at the moment is that a judge is allocated at random to a matter and manages it from beginning to end. This ensures consistency in how a matter is handled and keep judges familiar with a matter so that managing it is as efficient as possible.
In the new pilot model however, instead of being allocated to judges, financial-only applications are listed before a registrar who manages the case instead of a judge. The registrar handles the matter through conciliation conferences and private mediation/alternate dispute resolution, but if the matter is not able to be resolved, it is referred back to a judge.
This frees up judges to concentrate on more complex family law matters rather than simple financial cases, especially those involving smaller asset pools.
When a trial program of a similar nature was implemented in the Federal Circuit Court registry at Newcastle, it was found that 69% of cases were able to be resolved exclusively by registrars. It’s hoped the new pilot will be similarly successful and lead to a full rollout of the model around the country.
Funded by the Government’s Women’s Economic Security Package and run by the Federal Circuit Court, it’s anticipated the pilot will demonstrate a simpler, more cost-effective and more streamlined court service for families and couples to resolve simple property disputes.
There are further measures funded under the Women’s Economic Security Package as well, which include additional funding to Family Relationship Centres across Australia to assist families reach agreement about property division.
You can read more about the Women’s Economic Security Package here.
While the Government has been criticised over the years for ignoring recommendations of the various reports that have been conducted into family law, this initiative is a welcome response to recommendations from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs report titled “A Better Family Law System To Support and Protect Those Affected By Family Violence”, as well as reports by the Victorian Women’s Legal Service and the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Legal Aid commissions around the country have been funded to administer the Small Claims Property Pilot. People who obtain a grant under the pilot will receive legal assistance until their matter is resolved. In some cases, this may require going to court if mediation is not able to resolve the dispute.
If you are separating and you and your ex have an asset pool of $500,000 or less (excluding superannuation) you may be eligible for the pilot program. To discuss eligibility requirements, give your local Legal Aid office a call or you can also call our office for further advice.
Do you need assistance with working out your separation or divorce? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services 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 Legal Services.