The Family Court of Australia will become the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) on 1 September 2021. In a media release to the profession dated 20 July 2021, the Family Court of Australia said that:
“There will be a greater emphasis on encouraging parties to settle their disputes, where it is safe to do so, before proceedings are issued and ensuring that, if they do issue, they are aware of the ramifications for them and their families. For those cases that do need to proceed to litigation, the new Court will provide a modern, transparent and more efficient system of justice which is aimed at getting these parties through the process as safely, quickly and fairly as possible without undue delay. It is also aimed at dealing with the increasing rate of family violence in our community by ensuring risks to vulnerable parties and children at high risk are identified at the very earliest stage in the litigation and treated appropriately.”
Change to rules and procedures
With the new court will come new rules, new Practice Directions and new case flow procedures. The new suite of documentation will be released on 1 September 2021.
A new case pathway will be introduced, with the first court event to take place within 6 to 8 weeks of filing. Mediation or dispute resolution is then to occur within 5 to 6 months of filing, and if the matter is not resolved then a trial should commence within 12 months.
Here are some other things that will change:
- New Forms: Together with the new rules, and case flow procedure established by the Practice Directions, we will have new Court forms. There will be a transitional arrangement for the use of new forms, and a 90 day grace period for old forms.
- The court is introducing a new National Contravention list. This is to ensure that any alleged breaches of court orders will be dealt with quickly.
- New titles: Registrars will have a new title and will be known as Judicial Registrars; Senior Registrars will be known as Senior Judicial Registrars, and Assistant Registrars will be Deputy Registrars. However, the allocation of new titles, does not alter their judicial powers. Family Consultants will become known as Court Child Experts, and the Child Dispute Services will become known as the Court Children’s Service.
- Child Dispute Services in the FCFCOA will prepare reports known as a Child Impact Report, which is intended to be more comprehensive than the old s11F assessment process. This is designed to assist parties to reach agreement in parenting matters and provide expert guidance for parenting hearings.
- There will be no separate appeal division. The FCFCOA (Division 1) will retain jurisdiction to hear and determine family law appeals, as either a single Judge or as part of a Full Court. All appeals of Division 2 of the FCFCOA will be heard by a single Judge unless our Chief Judge considers it appropriate to be heard by a Full Court. A single national appeals registry will be introduced to ensure there is a consistent way of filing appeals.
- Last, and certainly not least, a new website (fcfcoa.gov.au) will launch on 1 September 2021, and will provide simplified access to court information.
After months of uncertainty this announcement is both reassuring and welcomed. Only time will tell whether the new FCFCOA will be the “innovative, fair and efficient” Court, we have been pledged.